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Featured this Month:

Is my Child Grieving?
Monday, July 01, 2013 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW

I often talk with new LOSS members who are parents with children at home. They are clearly reaching out for direction and support, still shell-shocked perhaps months later, but responding to a sense that they need to make sure their kids are okay. I may hear, “She doesn’t seem to be grieving. How can I tell?” These parents have no problem recognizing their own grief. Clearly, attending to each day is an effort. They struggle with emotional absence where their children are concerned. They are able to talk about the new imbalance in their physical and emotional systems. They describe “waves” of grief, in which they feel overwhelmed with grief and sadness. Their children and teens, on the other hand, appear to have shown only initial sadness, but life still engages them. They play video games, watch TV, do homework, see friends, yet the parent senses that their child has also been changed by the loss. So parents wonder if it is normal when their child appears unchanged.

Children and teens are changed by all losses, but if it is not emotionally processed, a catastrophic loss can affect development, beliefs and identity over many years. Depending on the age of your child, the smaller losses are what prepare him or her to cope with other losses ahead. For example, a ten year old who must move and start a new school faces loss that requires social skills and adaptation to change, moving the child along the developmental continuum. A catastrophic loss, however, like suicide of a parent or sibling, impacts children and teens beyond their normal adapative capacities. Their needs and defenses will be high. Depending on whether traumatic exposure to the death is involved, the closeness and safety of the relationship with the person who died, the child’s prior history of coping, the supportive atmosphere in the home, the amount of change in the child’s daily life and whether the child has a positive peer group, we observe that children and teens can grieve and come to terms with a loss such as suicide.

Grief is individualistic in adults as well as children. But children will be watching parents to model healthy expressions of grief. This means that crying is not viewed as weakness and self-care is prioritized under stressful circumstances. Expressions of grief and mourning are openly accepted and a gentle dialogue about the person who died becomes a part of life. Expect differences in the way each of your children show grieving behaviors. Younger children play and grieve intermittently. They may ask questions about the biological process and permanency of death. Most children, starting at age 8 or 9, will begin to grasp the permanency of death, although coming to terms with permanency is a process that can take a long time, particularly since these deaths are unexpected and shocking. When you feel able to talk with your children about the death you will want to explain it in terms that are appropriate for them. We recommend that you be honest but also avoid unnecessary graphic details. As we have explained in previous issues, young children cannot understand suicide until they can understand death. It is best to respond to the questions children raise so that you don’t overwhelm them with more information or detail than they can tolerate. So if children are old enough to understand death then they might pose a question about how their daddy died. You can respond by explaining that he died by suicide. If your child then asks further questions you can explain that your loved one’s brain was not working properly or thinking clearly, and that he was so confused that he did not know how to get help

for his confusion. The question of how much to tell and at what point is a complex question requiring considerable forethought. Children who are not told at all will usually feel that they were lied to. But conversely, children who receive too much information too early are likely to feel overwhelmed. Finding the balance involves understanding your child’s cognitive and emotional coping abilities as well as your own ability to convey the information in a way that matches your child’s needs. Knowing your child’s capacity to manage the truth without high risk reactions and recognizing your own ability to convey a developmentally appropriate child-centered explanation can challenge even the most dedicated parents. We always invite you to call and consult with the Child Specialist at The LOSS Program for Children and Youth. Autistic, developmentally delayed or mentally ill children may need more time to be informed about suicide.

Teens will process the loss somewhere between the capacity of a child and an adult. You may see the intermittent patterns of grief characteristic of younger children, as well as turning toward the peer group. Frequently, teens do not disclose their emotional experience to surviving parents. We observe that they do a lot of processing on their own or with a trusted person outside of the family, such as a relative, coach, teacher or counselor.

Children and teens are known to mask or minimize their feelings of grief in order to protect their surviving parents. Teens may assume caregiving behaviors or pursue more time and activity outside of the house. Teens may place a high priority on “being normal” and outwardly show little impact from the loss. But the grief runs through them. They are changed by the loss. Their acts of “becoming” can include undercurrents of deep doubt about life and the future. Your children and teens are asking “Why?” and coping with absence. They are trying to make sense of the suicide in their own way, and their interpretations may change over time. The beginning meanings they make of the loss may be very different from yours, and it is best to respect this unless you hear or see them responding with self-destructive ideas or behaviors. The person who died by suicide provided a complex reflection to each of your children, that gave them a message about who they are. In the light of this reflection, your children and teens will have internalized messages about themselves and that relationship, and this will be central to how each of them processes the experience. Keep in mind that meaning making is fluid and changeable with time. For this work, grief support groups or individual counseling can be helpful, but your presence, affection, consistent discipline and respectful understanding of your children’s individual and developmental differences can provide the positive reflection and emotional safety for your grieving children and teens.





Archives:

Is my Child Grieving?
Monday, July 01, 2013 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW

I often talk with new LOSS members who are parents with children at home. They are clearly reaching out for direction and support, still shell-shocked perhaps months later, but responding to a sense that they need to make sure their kids are okay. I may hear, “She doesn’t seem to be grieving. How can I tell?” These parents have no problem recognizing their own grief. Clearly, attending to each day is an effort. They struggle with emotional absence where their children are concerned. They are able to talk about the new imbalance in their physical and emotional systems. They describe “waves” of grief, in which they feel overwhelmed with grief and sadness. Their children and teens, on the other hand, appear to have shown only initial sadness, but life still engages them. They play video games, watch TV, do homework, see friends, yet the parent senses that their child has also been changed by the loss. So parents wonder if it is normal when their child appears unchanged.

Children and teens are changed by all losses, but if it is not emotionally processed, a catastrophic loss can affect development, beliefs and identity over many years. Depending on the age of your child, the smaller losses are what prepare him or her to cope with other losses ahead. For example, a ten year old who must move and start a new school faces loss that requires social skills and adaptation to change, moving the child along the developmental continuum. A catastrophic loss, however, like suicide of a parent or sibling, impacts children and teens beyond their normal adapative capacities. Their needs and defenses will be high. Depending on whether traumatic exposure to the death is involved, the closeness and safety of the relationship with the person who died, the child’s prior history of coping, the supportive atmosphere in the home, the amount of change in the child’s daily life and whether the child has a positive peer group, we observe that children and teens can grieve and come to terms with a loss such as suicide.

Grief is individualistic in adults as well as children. But children will be watching parents to model healthy expressions of grief. This means that crying is not viewed as weakness and self-care is prioritized under stressful circumstances. Expressions of grief and mourning are openly accepted and a gentle dialogue about the person who died becomes a part of life. Expect differences in the way each of your children show grieving behaviors. Younger children play and grieve intermittently. They may ask questions about the biological process and permanency of death. Most children, starting at age 8 or 9, will begin to grasp the permanency of death, although coming to terms with permanency is a process that can take a long time, particularly since these deaths are unexpected and shocking. When you feel able to talk with your children about the death you will want to explain it in terms that are appropriate for them. We recommend that you be honest but also avoid unnecessary graphic details. As we have explained in previous issues, young children cannot understand suicide until they can understand death. It is best to respond to the questions children raise so that you don’t overwhelm them with more information or detail than they can tolerate. So if children are old enough to understand death then they might pose a question about how their daddy died. You can respond by explaining that he died by suicide. If your child then asks further questions you can explain that your loved one’s brain was not working properly or thinking clearly, and that he was so confused that he did not know how to get help

for his confusion. The question of how much to tell and at what point is a complex question requiring considerable forethought. Children who are not told at all will usually feel that they were lied to. But conversely, children who receive too much information too early are likely to feel overwhelmed. Finding the balance involves understanding your child’s cognitive and emotional coping abilities as well as your own ability to convey the information in a way that matches your child’s needs. Knowing your child’s capacity to manage the truth without high risk reactions and recognizing your own ability to convey a developmentally appropriate child-centered explanation can challenge even the most dedicated parents. We always invite you to call and consult with the Child Specialist at The LOSS Program for Children and Youth. Autistic, developmentally delayed or mentally ill children may need more time to be informed about suicide.

Teens will process the loss somewhere between the capacity of a child and an adult. You may see the intermittent patterns of grief characteristic of younger children, as well as turning toward the peer group. Frequently, teens do not disclose their emotional experience to surviving parents. We observe that they do a lot of processing on their own or with a trusted person outside of the family, such as a relative, coach, teacher or counselor.

Children and teens are known to mask or minimize their feelings of grief in order to protect their surviving parents. Teens may assume caregiving behaviors or pursue more time and activity outside of the house. Teens may place a high priority on “being normal” and outwardly show little impact from the loss. But the grief runs through them. They are changed by the loss. Their acts of “becoming” can include undercurrents of deep doubt about life and the future. Your children and teens are asking “Why?” and coping with absence. They are trying to make sense of the suicide in their own way, and their interpretations may change over time. The beginning meanings they make of the loss may be very different from yours, and it is best to respect this unless you hear or see them responding with self-destructive ideas or behaviors. The person who died by suicide provided a complex reflection to each of your children, that gave them a message about who they are. In the light of this reflection, your children and teens will have internalized messages about themselves and that relationship, and this will be central to how each of them processes the experience. Keep in mind that meaning making is fluid and changeable with time. For this work, grief support groups or individual counseling can be helpful, but your presence, affection, consistent discipline and respectful understanding of your children’s individual and developmental differences can provide the positive reflection and emotional safety for your grieving children and teens.