Monday, Dec. 2, 2013
By Amanda Bedgood
There is perhaps no experience more personal and unique than grief. When a loved one dies, people cope in different ways in their own time. Children are no different. The grief journey of a child, however, is one that changes as they grow. Unlike adults who may find time heals, children face grief in different ways because their understanding of the way the world works changes.
“Their understanding of loss changes. It goes from ‘I miss my daddy today, I miss him this afternoon’ where the thinking is very at the moment. Then they think later into the future — ‘he won’t be at my graduation someday or my wedding.’ The loss feels much more permanent,” says social worker Jenee Broussard, who helms Lafayette’s Healing House.
The center for children facing loss supports children of all ages in their grief journey — a road that changes year after year and one that has no hard and fast rules. If there are any guidelines for dealing with loss and children, Broussard says it’s simply to be honest in an age appropriate way.
“Tell children the truth,” Broussard says. “Tell them in an age appropriate way and not just your beliefs.”
She says while faith is important, it’s vital to give children a concrete explanation of the physical nature of the loss. She points to how confusing death can be for children whose frame of reference is often Disney movies and fairy tales. Children see death through the eyes of these fictional tales that include characters who often come back to life.
“They need to know what happens when someone dies, when their heart stops beating. What they understand usually comes from television and Disney. For younger kids that’s their only knowledge, and they have very magical thinking. They think ‘they’ll come back to life.’”
She says giving children an understanding that death is final in a physical sense is crucial to the healing process.
“We rely on faith, but they also need a physical explanation as well,” Broussard says.
Like most things in life, children face loss differently than adults. When a family member dies, younger children often see death as temporary and even reversible while older children between 5 and 9 usually believe it will never happen to them or someone they know. They may believe for weeks that the family member is still alive, and some regress in behavior, becoming infantile. But, all need to grieve in their own unique ways — just like adults do.
• Has your child experienced changes in his/her sleep patterns since the death?
• Has your child experienced changes in his/her eating patterns since the death?
• Has your child demonstrated changes in his/her academic performance since the death?
• Has your child demonstrated increased dependency since the death?
• Has your child’s overall behavior noticeably changed (increase in energy; acting out more; increased aggression)?
• Has your child been more withdrawn and/or appeared sad or depressed?
• Has your child complained of an increase in physical complaints since the death?
If you answered “yes” to four out of seven of these questions, your child is grieving and could benefit from the ability to act out accordingly at the Healing House.
If your child has experienced a death and you answered “no” to four out of seven, remain aware of these symptoms, as a child’s grief may not become apparent until months after the death has occurred.
For more information visit healing-house.org or call 234-0443.