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Featured this Month:

Can a Loving Parent Create Obstacles to a Child’s Grief Process?
Thursday, September 01, 2016 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
Parental bereavement is one of the most stressful experiences that a child can face. And sudden death, such as suicide, will usually impact children with some level of trauma because a primary  attachment bond has been  spontaneously disrupted, even violated, under circumstances that may have involved violence or exposure to the scene of death.  Consider that a child’s capacity to express and integrate aspects of grief will be limited by her current age and development.  But with support, a bereaved child will grow into a more mature understanding of the loss and internalize meaningful memories of the deceased parent.  Movement through grief can require a long period of time, and the surviving parent or caregiver will bear some responsibility for creating a healthy grief environment in the home, perhaps over multiple developmental stages. But, how often does a parent who is actively raising children anticipate or think about the tasks of grieving children?  Of course, most parents are unprepared for suicide or another sudden death of a spouse and the needs of their children as they process the death and its circumstances. When children, young ones and adolescents, have been confronted with a sudden, devastating loss of a parent, we encourage parents to get as much information as possible, so that it is less likely that misunderstandings will create obstacles to a healthy grief process.  When surviving parents get familiar with the needs of bereaved children and teens, they learn how to respond and contribute to their children’s mental health, emotional development, and closer familial bonds. Uninformed parents run the risk of misinterpreting their children’s moods and behaviors and overlooking those very important needs of a young, developing person.  If obstacles to grief are fixed in the family dynamic, children can become symptomatic.

 So, we want children of all ages to feel safe in verbal and behavioral expression of their loss, with the caregiver in an educated position to interpret, understand and support the child’s process.  Grief is a bio-systemic response to loss.  It involves the entire body-mind, but child and adolescent grief can present outwardly as little or no disruption.  Your teenager’s grief may resemble your grief response or be completely different.  Younger children grieve intermittently, alternating play with awareness of the deceased parent’s absence.  And the caregiver’s ability to be receptive to the child’s unique experience, rather than trying to manage or control it, will have the greatest impact on the health of the child’s ability to move through the loss.  The supportive caregiving role involves communication that is honest about the death and our feelings about it, yet developmentally appropriate.   It accepts a range of feelings and memories about the person who died, even when very different from yours.  It anticipates milestones and dates that will be significant to the child and makes arrangements so that they can be observed over time. The caregiver will be aware that personal belongings, photos, etc., of the deceased may be precious or significant to the child now or later, and important, too, for comfort and integration the loss.    The home that supports the grief process can influence a young person’s developing view of the world and human relationships, so it is important to consult, read and self-educate about the shaping force of parental death and the healing potential of the caregiving environment.   
How do parents inadvertently create obstacles to a child’s grief process? They may not realize or appreciate how spousal grief is vastly different from parental grief, and to confuse these experiences risks serious obstacles for the grief process of children and teens.

- Parental death catalyzes grief as a family process.  The family is a system, no matter how often family members are around, or how cooperative they are, or how different they are from each other.  Parents and children will react to each other after a primary death in the family.  The caregiver is aware that his or her attitudes and behavior during the aftermath of the loss will greatly influence the children.

- The surviving parent’s anger or resentment regarding the deceased parent can cause a split or disorganized grief response on the part of the child or teen.  The child may mask his or her grief response or isolate and idealize the deceased parent.  It is very important that an angry, bereaved parent receive professional help to work through the feelings that will inhibit the child’s authentic expression of grief.

- The surviving parent’s response to social stigma associated with the spouse’s suicide or other causes of death, such as AIDS, homicide and drug-related death, will also affect children, especially teens, who are so sensitive to social pressures.  All stigma is based on fear and prejudice.  And for a surviving parent and children, the acceptance of shame or secrets associated with the other parent’s death has no usefulness in an atmosphere of healing.  The questions that surround the death of your child’s deceased parent will become a pathway for the meaning and narrative that the child learns to explain the death to herself and others. Hopefully, the story will become one of compassion.

- An expectation that your child will see, as you may, the “blessings” in the loss of a depressed, violent or substance-addicted parent is another mistaken assumption that is likely to impose a grief obstacle for your young person.  Parental love is complex and irrational.  Expect your children to grieve, and help them to acknowledge the tangle of disparate feelings.  Don’t fail to support what loving memories your children may be able to share.  Always acknowledge both the humanity as well as the flaws of the deceased parent. 
Children of all ages are deeply impacted by the death of a parent.  Sudden death, and especially, suicide, leaves a wrenching, seemingly incomprehensible set of feelings and questions for the children of the deceased parent.  An informed surviving parent, one who is able to separate his or her adult response from those of the children will prioritize their bereavement experiences and needs.  We welcome consultation calls at the LOSS Program of Children and Youth.       
      



Archives:

Can a Loving Parent Create Obstacles to a Child’s Grief Process?
Thursday, September 01, 2016 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
Parental bereavement is one of the most stressful experiences that a child can face. And sudden death, such as suicide, will usually impact children with some level of trauma because a primary  attachment bond has been  spontaneously disrupted, even violated, under circumstances that may have involved violence or exposure to the scene of death.  Consider that a child’s capacity to express and integrate aspects of grief will be limited by her current age and development.  But with support, a bereaved child will grow into a more mature understanding of the loss and internalize meaningful memories of the deceased parent.  Movement through grief can require a long period of time, and the surviving parent or caregiver will bear some responsibility for creating a healthy grief environment in the home, perhaps over multiple developmental stages. But, how often does a parent who is actively raising children anticipate or think about the tasks of grieving children?  Of course, most parents are unprepared for suicide or another sudden death of a spouse and the needs of their children as they process the death and its circumstances. When children, young ones and adolescents, have been confronted with a sudden, devastating loss of a parent, we encourage parents to get as much information as possible, so that it is less likely that misunderstandings will create obstacles to a healthy grief process.  When surviving parents get familiar with the needs of bereaved children and teens, they learn how to respond and contribute to their children’s mental health, emotional development, and closer familial bonds. Uninformed parents run the risk of misinterpreting their children’s moods and behaviors and overlooking those very important needs of a young, developing person.  If obstacles to grief are fixed in the family dynamic, children can become symptomatic.

 So, we want children of all ages to feel safe in verbal and behavioral expression of their loss, with the caregiver in an educated position to interpret, understand and support the child’s process.  Grief is a bio-systemic response to loss.  It involves the entire body-mind, but child and adolescent grief can present outwardly as little or no disruption.  Your teenager’s grief may resemble your grief response or be completely different.  Younger children grieve intermittently, alternating play with awareness of the deceased parent’s absence.  And the caregiver’s ability to be receptive to the child’s unique experience, rather than trying to manage or control it, will have the greatest impact on the health of the child’s ability to move through the loss.  The supportive caregiving role involves communication that is honest about the death and our feelings about it, yet developmentally appropriate.   It accepts a range of feelings and memories about the person who died, even when very different from yours.  It anticipates milestones and dates that will be significant to the child and makes arrangements so that they can be observed over time. The caregiver will be aware that personal belongings, photos, etc., of the deceased may be precious or significant to the child now or later, and important, too, for comfort and integration the loss.    The home that supports the grief process can influence a young person’s developing view of the world and human relationships, so it is important to consult, read and self-educate about the shaping force of parental death and the healing potential of the caregiving environment.   
How do parents inadvertently create obstacles to a child’s grief process? They may not realize or appreciate how spousal grief is vastly different from parental grief, and to confuse these experiences risks serious obstacles for the grief process of children and teens.

- Parental death catalyzes grief as a family process.  The family is a system, no matter how often family members are around, or how cooperative they are, or how different they are from each other.  Parents and children will react to each other after a primary death in the family.  The caregiver is aware that his or her attitudes and behavior during the aftermath of the loss will greatly influence the children.

- The surviving parent’s anger or resentment regarding the deceased parent can cause a split or disorganized grief response on the part of the child or teen.  The child may mask his or her grief response or isolate and idealize the deceased parent.  It is very important that an angry, bereaved parent receive professional help to work through the feelings that will inhibit the child’s authentic expression of grief.

- The surviving parent’s response to social stigma associated with the spouse’s suicide or other causes of death, such as AIDS, homicide and drug-related death, will also affect children, especially teens, who are so sensitive to social pressures.  All stigma is based on fear and prejudice.  And for a surviving parent and children, the acceptance of shame or secrets associated with the other parent’s death has no usefulness in an atmosphere of healing.  The questions that surround the death of your child’s deceased parent will become a pathway for the meaning and narrative that the child learns to explain the death to herself and others. Hopefully, the story will become one of compassion.

- An expectation that your child will see, as you may, the “blessings” in the loss of a depressed, violent or substance-addicted parent is another mistaken assumption that is likely to impose a grief obstacle for your young person.  Parental love is complex and irrational.  Expect your children to grieve, and help them to acknowledge the tangle of disparate feelings.  Don’t fail to support what loving memories your children may be able to share.  Always acknowledge both the humanity as well as the flaws of the deceased parent. 
Children of all ages are deeply impacted by the death of a parent.  Sudden death, and especially, suicide, leaves a wrenching, seemingly incomprehensible set of feelings and questions for the children of the deceased parent.  An informed surviving parent, one who is able to separate his or her adult response from those of the children will prioritize their bereavement experiences and needs.  We welcome consultation calls at the LOSS Program of Children and Youth.