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

Section 8
Children's Adjustment to Loss

Question 8 | Test | Table of Contents | Grief CEU Courses
Social Worker CEU, Psychologist CE, Counselor CEU, MFT CEU

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In the last section, we discussed involving children in change when a loss occurs.

In this section, we will discuss other areas of adjusting to a new life.  Three aspects regarding adjusting to a new life after a loss are role changes, going back to school, and holidays. 

The information in this section, was compiled by a colleague of mine, Edmund, who has done extensive work helping parents assist their children in working through the grief process. This section was created with his assistance. As you listen to this section, consider playing it for the parent of a grieving child you may be treating.

Three Aspects in Adjusting

♦ #1 Role Changes
As you know following a death in a family, role changes take place to fill the gap created by the death. Edmund identified role changes which may be nonproductive. First, the surviving parent may find it comforting to let a child assume the role of a deceased family member, especially if the deceased is a spouse. 

Children may feel obligated to take on a certain role. This feeling of obligation may then be encouraged by friends or relatives. For example, 13 year old Dane was told after his father’s death that he was now ‘the man of the house.’ Dane proceeded to start looking in the newspaper for jobs and worrying how he could make enough money to support the family. 

Another example of negative role change Edmund explained was a situation regarding a widowed mother who had several children. Her oldest son, Mark, age 15, became the self-appointed disciplinarian of the family. Though the widowed mother felt initial relief, the younger children were confused and resentful of Mark’s new heavy handed position. 

Sometimes Mark would play and act like a brother, yet other times he would become a disciplinarian hitting them with his father's belt.  Also Mark became confused, as well, because sometimes he was in charge, but other times his mother was in charge. 

Think of your Mark, who is the oldest child.  Is he or she confused about a role change and positions of authority after the loss of a parent?  Would playing this section during a session be helpful for you client who is a surviving parent with more than one child?

♦ #2 Back to School
Identified also in my colleague’s work is information regarding grieving children who are returning to school. Edmund lists two important reasons for sending grieving children back to school as soon as possible, provided their grief is progressing. 

Reason #1: First, school is a large part of a child’s life. Friends and teachers provide not only social structure, but also positive relationships and social support. Edmund noted that the majority of time spent with friends takes place at school. 
Reason #2: Second, returning to school reassures children that life goes on. The routine of school may help the child regain security. Edmund also stressed the parent’s role in preparing for the child to go back to school. 

You may already know the importance of discussing with a child what information he or she would like to have shared with classmates and what information he or she would like withheld.  Discouraging trying to keep the death of a parent a secret will not benefit the child because the support of classmates can of course be an added resource. Think of your grieving client. Could a return to daily routines benefit him or her in coping with grief?  How will you handle this topic in your next session?

♦ #3 Holidays
In addition to role changes and going back to school, the third aspect regarding adjusting to a new life is the topic of holidays. Three important aspects outlined by Edmund related to holidays concerning grieving children are planning for the holidays, anniversaries, and the first year.  Edmund notes that holidays which were once anticipated with pleasure usually become reminders of the pain of grief as you have no doubt experienced with your clients. 

1. Anticipation - Due to the inescapability of holidays, Edmund feels that avoiding holidays is nonproductive.  Planning for holidays, however painful, may not decrease feelings of grief, but can help a child accept the reality of the death that has occurred. Often, parents of grieving children find that the anticipation of holidays is worse than the holiday itself. Has this been your experience?

2. Anniversaries - Second, Edmund notes the importance of anniversaries, such as wedding anniversaries or birthdays.  If the grieving child is old enough to be aware of what day it is, perhaps the parent can create an activity for celebratory purposes. 

For example, one widowed mother engaged her daughter in making an arrangement of flowers for her father’s grave for Father’s Day, which had been a big occasion in the past. Or celebrating Father’s Day or Mother’s Day with the child’s grandfather or grandmother is another alternative, of course, depending upon the history of the relationship with these individuals. 

3. The First Year - In addition to planning for holidays and anniversaries, the third holiday concern is the first year. Family discussions can help in discovering how each family member feels about the up coming holiday. For example, the parent may be dreading Christmas, but the grieving child may be looking forward to the tree, lights, and gifts. 

This child may be worried Christmas won’t happen, because happiness may indicate the lost parent was not that special. Changes in ritual may benefit the grieving child. For example, a fatherless family spent Christmas in the Caribbean after the father died. It was a different type of celebration, but because it was so different the grieving children were able to enjoy it. 

The following year this family returned to traditional rituals. By that time they were slightly more comfortable doing so. However, some therapists may judge this holiday away as immature or avoidant grief work. What is your opinion?

Think of your grieving client.  As he or she associates holidays with their loss, could the material in this section be of assistance to your client and his or his child?

In this section, we have discussed adjusting to a new life.  Three aspects regarding adjusting to a new life are role changes, going back to school, and holidays.

In the next section, we will discuss guidelines for trauma.  There are three guideline topics for treating traumatized children.  The three topics are helping traumatized children, what to say to a traumatized child, and what not to say to a traumatized child.

- Lawrence, G., Kurpius, & Robinson, S. E. (2000). Legal and Ethical Issues Involved When Counseling Minors in Nonschool Settings. Journal of Counseling and Development.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Clements, M. L., Martin, S. E., Randall, D. W., & Kane, K. L. (2014). Child and parent perceptions of interparental relationship conflict predict preschool children’s adjustment. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 3(2), 110–125.

Colasante, T., Zuffianò, A., Haley, D. W., & Malti, T. (2018). Children’s autonomic nervous system activity while transgressing: Relations to guilt feelings and aggression. Developmental Psychology, 54(9), 1621–1633.

Donohue, M. R., & Tully, E. C. (2019). Reparative prosocial behaviors alleviate children’s guilt. Developmental Psychology, 55(10), 2102–2113.

Howard Sharp, K. M., Russell, C., Keim, M., Barrera, M., Gilmer, M. J., Foster Akard, T., Compas, B. E., Fairclough, D. L., Davies, B., Hogan, N., Young-Saleme, T., Vannatta, K., & Gerhardt, C. A. (2018). Grief and growth in bereaved siblings: Interactions between different sources of social support. School Psychology Quarterly, 33(3), 363–371.

Low, S. M., & Stocker, C. (2012). "Family functioning and children's adjustment: Associations among parents' depressed mood, marital hostility, parent-child hostility, and children's adjustment": Correction to Low and Stocker (2005). Journal of Family Psychology, 26(2), 253. 

Review of Life & loss: A guide to help grieving children (2000). [Review of the book Life & loss: A guide to help grieving children (2nd ed.), by L. Goldman]. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 21(3), 141. 

What are three aspects regarding adjusting to a new life after a loss? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

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