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Chicago, IL 60654

Main Line: (312) 655-7283
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Featured this Month:

Helping Young Children Build Their Story of The LOSS
Wednesday, January 01, 2014 by Cynthia Waderlow, MSE, LCSW
Working with the youngest children after the suicide of their sibling or parent is not easy, but the potential for healing is gratifying, and can have far-reaching consequences for their emotional development. Grief work with children between the ages of three and five is more challenging because they tend to occupy the moment.  It is work for them to mentally move backward and forward in time, and to put words to the thoughts that are necessary for a narrative, a story that explains the loss.  Besides the limitations of early childhood development, a bereaved child is likely to be stressed, fatigued or coping with caregiving or housing changes, in addition to the sudden absence of the loved one.  The suicide-bereaved child will create narrative in disconnected pieces.  These story fragments don’t seem to quiet the need to understand the absence for very long, so grief work will be intermittent in the context of the child’s daily life.

Like any person struggling with grief, a young child will also struggle to make sense of the loss, but the experience can be painful and disturbing, and the child will emotionally defend against the realization that a person who had been a solid presence will not come back.  Some children will avoid references to the loss or cover their ears. Some will pretend that they have plans with the deceased person; some will try not to think about the loss or convert their sadness into anger. Very often, children will try to think of a solution to bring the loved one back. Imagine the challenge of confronting a major loss experience, to wish to search for the deceased person, to feel sadness and confusion, to anticipate the loved one’s return, with only limited cognition and language.  When children form attachments, they will universally expect the attachment figure to reappear.  They have no experience in taking in an irreversible primary loss.  What could feel overwhelming must be approached in small story pieces.   A parent or grief therapist will want to stay with a young child’s grief process and help the child add pieces or “clean up” a piece of their story that is distorted, confused or untrue.

Therapists in The LOSS Program for Children and Youth also meet with young children aged three to five who are trying to make sense of their losses as they play and watch TV and attend pre-school, but their lives feel different and confusing:  A four-year-old was nearby when her father shot himself in the head.  She recalls her father with a black eye.  A five-year-old child remembers that her mother was irritated with her when she got out of bed several times, and the next morning her mother was gone.  Another four-year-old saw only the upper body of his older brother in the casket during the funeral and asked what happened to his brother’s legs.  Each child associated emotional or visual memories with the disappearance of their loved one, and these children need a helpful adult to help them put these memories in perspective.  Without an attuned adult’s receptivity to incidental conversations here and there, without listening for the child’s spontaneous comments and creating story drawings to help with understanding, the memories could take root in the child’s mind with added guilt or trauma.  We need to clear up whether the father’s black eye was actually the wound, or was it sustained earlier?  How much earlier, and why?  Does the child hold some idea of cause and effect?  When a young child remembers the deceased’s anger prior to the death, the child can feel responsible, but not have words to process this. Will the child believe, at some level, that anger can cause death, or even suicide?  The third young child carried a disconcerting picture of missing body pieces when the lower portion of his brother’s body was covered by the top of the casket. We don’t want these distortions to persist.

Assisting young children to form a reasonable and cohesive narrative of the loss involves asking questions and using meaningful play and interaction in response to the child’s comments.  Guiding a child’s understanding through incidental conversation can occur while using paper and markers, puppets, playhouse, or just talking while eating at the table or riding in the car.  The child’s story is assembled gradually with the child’s input and the adult’s help with order of events.  The significance of a detail, such as anger or a black eye, would be recognized or corrected.  Our children’s program wants to ensure that young ones understand biological death and permanence before asking them to deal with the suicide aspect of the loss.  Story work can be instrumental in laying a foundation for young children to integrate knowledge of suicide as the cause of death after incorporating mental illness into the narrative.  If a young child learns that depression was the sickness in the brain that made Daddy’s body stop working, suicide is not a great cognitive leap when he or she comes of age for this information.

All narratives are structured with a beginning, middle and end, but young children may begin their narratives at any of the three points.  Time and emotional safety allow the questions and feelings to be expressed as connectors as an adult helps with the order of events, validation of feelings and correcting of misperceptions.

When a LOSS therapist engages your young child in grief services, loss is only part of the focus during a play session.  Children are children first, and we respect the intermittent nature of a young person’s grief experience.  The stage is set with patience, time and child-friendly activities in session, as well as at home with family, where story is best encouraged and developed in the context of daily life.


Archives:

Helping Young Children Build Their Story of The LOSS
Wednesday, January 01, 2014 by Cynthia Waderlow, MSE, LCSW
Working with the youngest children after the suicide of their sibling or parent is not easy, but the potential for healing is gratifying, and can have far-reaching consequences for their emotional development. Grief work with children between the ages of three and five is more challenging because they tend to occupy the moment.  It is work for them to mentally move backward and forward in time, and to put words to the thoughts that are necessary for a narrative, a story that explains the loss.  Besides the limitations of early childhood development, a bereaved child is likely to be stressed, fatigued or coping with caregiving or housing changes, in addition to the sudden absence of the loved one.  The suicide-bereaved child will create narrative in disconnected pieces.  These story fragments don’t seem to quiet the need to understand the absence for very long, so grief work will be intermittent in the context of the child’s daily life.

Like any person struggling with grief, a young child will also struggle to make sense of the loss, but the experience can be painful and disturbing, and the child will emotionally defend against the realization that a person who had been a solid presence will not come back.  Some children will avoid references to the loss or cover their ears. Some will pretend that they have plans with the deceased person; some will try not to think about the loss or convert their sadness into anger. Very often, children will try to think of a solution to bring the loved one back. Imagine the challenge of confronting a major loss experience, to wish to search for the deceased person, to feel sadness and confusion, to anticipate the loved one’s return, with only limited cognition and language.  When children form attachments, they will universally expect the attachment figure to reappear.  They have no experience in taking in an irreversible primary loss.  What could feel overwhelming must be approached in small story pieces.   A parent or grief therapist will want to stay with a young child’s grief process and help the child add pieces or “clean up” a piece of their story that is distorted, confused or untrue.

Therapists in The LOSS Program for Children and Youth also meet with young children aged three to five who are trying to make sense of their losses as they play and watch TV and attend pre-school, but their lives feel different and confusing:  A four-year-old was nearby when her father shot himself in the head.  She recalls her father with a black eye.  A five-year-old child remembers that her mother was irritated with her when she got out of bed several times, and the next morning her mother was gone.  Another four-year-old saw only the upper body of his older brother in the casket during the funeral and asked what happened to his brother’s legs.  Each child associated emotional or visual memories with the disappearance of their loved one, and these children need a helpful adult to help them put these memories in perspective.  Without an attuned adult’s receptivity to incidental conversations here and there, without listening for the child’s spontaneous comments and creating story drawings to help with understanding, the memories could take root in the child’s mind with added guilt or trauma.  We need to clear up whether the father’s black eye was actually the wound, or was it sustained earlier?  How much earlier, and why?  Does the child hold some idea of cause and effect?  When a young child remembers the deceased’s anger prior to the death, the child can feel responsible, but not have words to process this. Will the child believe, at some level, that anger can cause death, or even suicide?  The third young child carried a disconcerting picture of missing body pieces when the lower portion of his brother’s body was covered by the top of the casket. We don’t want these distortions to persist.

Assisting young children to form a reasonable and cohesive narrative of the loss involves asking questions and using meaningful play and interaction in response to the child’s comments.  Guiding a child’s understanding through incidental conversation can occur while using paper and markers, puppets, playhouse, or just talking while eating at the table or riding in the car.  The child’s story is assembled gradually with the child’s input and the adult’s help with order of events.  The significance of a detail, such as anger or a black eye, would be recognized or corrected.  Our children’s program wants to ensure that young ones understand biological death and permanence before asking them to deal with the suicide aspect of the loss.  Story work can be instrumental in laying a foundation for young children to integrate knowledge of suicide as the cause of death after incorporating mental illness into the narrative.  If a young child learns that depression was the sickness in the brain that made Daddy’s body stop working, suicide is not a great cognitive leap when he or she comes of age for this information.

All narratives are structured with a beginning, middle and end, but young children may begin their narratives at any of the three points.  Time and emotional safety allow the questions and feelings to be expressed as connectors as an adult helps with the order of events, validation of feelings and correcting of misperceptions.

When a LOSS therapist engages your young child in grief services, loss is only part of the focus during a play session.  Children are children first, and we respect the intermittent nature of a young person’s grief experience.  The stage is set with patience, time and child-friendly activities in session, as well as at home with family, where story is best encouraged and developed in the context of daily life.