Children are often the overlooked mourners. These young grievers unfortunately may never get their greatest emotional and spiritual needs met in dealing with their devastating loss. Why does this happen?
In the family, adults are dealing with their own grief. They don’t know what to do for themselves, much less what to do for hurting, grieving children. To complicate the situation further, grieving children in a family or community are often pushed aside, chastised, punished and suddenly marked as “problem children” because they act out in protest to their loss. The adults around them don’t understand that the child in grief is angry, upset, and scared….and the only coping skill they know to employ is protest, acting out and seeking attention in any way possible. These are not problem children, but children with a problem. They need the adults around them to provide comfort, encouragement and most importantly security. Grieving children who are acting out and having trouble in school are often misdiagnosed as ADD or ADHD. These troubled children will often display the symptoms of these two diagnoses.
In many communities, there are no grief support groups, agencies or professionals who reach out to grieving children. Our culture fosters two myths about children in grief. One myth is that children are too young to understand loss and therefore, they don’t grieve. Another myth is that children grieve like little adults and can have their needs met exactly the way mourning adults do. The truth is that children who are old enough to love are old enough to grieve (from Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD, Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition http://centerforloss.com). Children do grieve. They grieve at the level of understanding they have at their developmental stage in life. And children need support, encouragement, and instruction in order to develop healthy coping skills to deal with their loss. Often when they fail to receive the needed support during grief, children will develop unhealthy coping skills which they will carry into their adult lives. The result is unhealthy, unhappy adults dealing with emotional and spiritual life problems.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
You can reach out to grieving children at the time that they need you most. Start a program or services in your community especially for grieving children and teens. One resource for helping you to do this is the BreakWay: A Divorce Journey Curriculum (copyright, 2013, ChristianWorks for Children). For more information about the BreakWay Curriculum, go to https://www.breakway.org/ or call 972-960-9981
Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise” available online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Also available for Kindle and Nook.