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8 Strategies for Working with Grieving Children
10 CEUs 8 Strategies for Working with Grieving Children

Section 4
Aspects of Murder in Children

Question 4 | Test | Table of Contents | Grief CEU Courses
Social Worker CEU, Psychologist CE, Counselor CEU, MFT CEU

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On the last track we discussed guilt.  Three concepts regarding guilt are guilt is common, unrealistic guilt, and the understanding responsibility technique.

On this track we will discuss murder and how it affects grieving children.  Three aspects of murder we will discuss are how murder can create complicated grief, grief from murder may present differently, and productive anger from grief. As you listen to the information on this track, consider playing it for the parent of a grieving child you are treating if applicable.

Three Aspects of Murder

Aspect #1 - Murder Can Create Complicated Grief
Have you found that murder may intensify aspects of the mourning process?  In this way, murder can create complicated grief.  For grieving children, the shock is of course, overwhelming; the numbness can last for years; the fear, vulnerability, and rage can be severe.  There may be a strong desire for revenge.  However, social support may be inadequate, for as kind as most people are, they may find the extent of the child’s anger and horror alienating.

People also know that violent death often requires survivors to take on the new role of being a plaintiff in a trial.  Although dealing with lawyers, court dates, depositions, trials, and the paraphernalia of the legal system can add to feelings of frustration and helplessness, it can also provide an outlet for anger for the parents of a grieving child.  Are you treating a child whose family member has been murdered?  Reflect for a moment where your client is regarding feelings of shock, anger, and the desire for justice?  

For example, Julie, was a 14 year old high school student in New York City whose 19 year old brother, Nate, was murdered.  Julie stated, "Me and my mom became determined to bring my brother’s killers to justice, and it’s finally paying off.  One of  Nate’s killers was finally arrested.  But no tears have been shed by me!  They just don’t come!"

Grieving children whose loved ones died as a result of homicide may be quick to point out that with murder, clients have to face the fact that there is someone out there who actually wished their loved one dead.  If you are treating a client whose family member was murdered, what is the status of the murderer?  Is he or she still at large, going through trial, imprisoned, or even identified?

Aspect #2 - Grief from Murder May Present Differently
As well as murder creating complicated grief, grief from murder may present differently.  The common stages of grief for children grieving a murder may differ because death has been caused by another human being.  If there is no arrest, grieving children have to live with the knowledge that that person is still around and probably will commit another murder and can present a threat to other members of the family.

This knowledge may follow the child throughout his or her life.  The second way that grief from murder may present differently is, if the arrest has been made and the killer goes to jail, the killer may not stay in jail forever. Eventually, parole may come and that person may be set free, walking around.  If the killer is released it can be difficult for the grieving child to close his or her mind on grief.

For grieving children, murder may emphasize how delicate life is, how easily and needlessly it can be severed, and how unsafe a place the world is.  Murder may force children to deal with concepts of senselessness and evil prematurely.  Murder also may produce a sense of vulnerability that can take a long time to diminish. In addition, murder, like suicide, makes other people thoroughly ill at ease.

Using the word "murdered" may be a problem grieving children wrestle with. I find that, like adults, murder is a word which grieving children may feel uncomfortable using. Murder may force grieving children to reconstruct their worldview—to incorporate within it the very worst of possibilities. Think of your client. Do the different ways that grief from murder present itself, correlate with the creation of complicated grief? Can understanding this relationship between murder and their complicated grief help your client begin the progression through the normal stages of grief?

Aspect #3 - Productive Anger from Grief
Just as there is relief to be found in expressing feelings, there can also be benefit in turning anger into activism. Children who try to effect change are less likely to succumb to helplessness and despair. Taking action can mean helping a parent write letters to the judge, the editor, or your representatives in Congress. The point is to do something. Parents may feel that by taking political or social action, the death will serve some purpose.  

Think of the client you are treating.  How could the information on this track help him or her to begin to progress through complicated grief resulting from murder?  Would playing this track for your client benefit him or her?

On this track we have discussed murder and how it affects grieving children.  Three aspects of murder that we have discussed are how murder can create complicated grief, grief from murder may present differently, and productive anger from grief. 

On the next track we will discuss melancholic features.  We will discuss ways to differentiate between melancholic features
and clinical depression.

- Schaefer, D., Ph.D., & Lyons, C. (2001). How Do We Tell The Children? A Step-by-step Guide for Helping Children Two to Teen Cope When Someone Dies. New York, NY: Newmarket Press.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Bellet, B. W., LeBlanc, N. J., Nizzi, M.-C., Carter, M. L., van der Does, F. H. S., Peters, J., Robinaugh, D. J., & McNally, R. J. (2020). Identity confusion in complicated grief: A closer look. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 129(4), 397–407.

Faust, J., & Katchen, L. B. (2004). Treatment of children with complicated posttraumatic stress reactions. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 41(4), 426–437. 

Roth, B. (2015). Recovering memories of a murder by a child, or “getting away with murder”. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 32(1), 140–158.

What are three aspects of murder? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

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