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Therapy for Children's Grief
On the last track we discussed involving children in change when a loss occurs.
On this track 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 on this track 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 track was created with his assistance. As you listen to this track, consider playing it for the parent of a grieving child you may be treating.
Three Aspects in Adjusting
#1 Role Changes
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 track during a session be helpful for you client who is a surviving parent with more than one child?
#2 Back to School
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.
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?
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 on this track be of assistance to your client and his or his child?
On this track 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.
On the next track 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.
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