Sample Course Notes - MAJOR CAUSES OF LOSS FOR CHILDREN
Some losses are especially poignant for children because they are more pertinent to their lifestyles and stage of development.
Changing school - this can be quite traumatic for children, especially if they have also moved house to a new town where they have no friends.
Friendship breakdown - this is probably a greater source of distress for older children who have a greater interest in the opinions of their friends than younger children whose parents are still their most influential role models, although it can still adversely affect younger children.
Parental divorce - children often experience heightened levels of anxiety if their parents get divorced. They might also suffer from problems with their self-esteem. Sometimes they feel guilty. Children who are more internally orientated might become more reclusive or engage in self-harm. Those of a more external orientation might act out through aggressive outbursts, or experimenting with drugs, alcohol or sex.
Loss of a sibling – as already stated, children do not expect their parents to die when they are young. The loss of a brother or sister can be particularly difficult. Often, children do not expect other children to die. They tend to think that “old people” die, not young people. The sibling may have been there as a playmate. They may have been there through all of the child’s life and suddenly they are gone. The loss does not always have to be a death, it could be that the child lived in a blended family and when the family broke up, the children went to live with their respective parents. Along with the grief they feel, the child will also be aware of the grief that their parent(s) and family are feeling.
Loss of a pet - pets can be very important for children (and adults of course), but the loss of a pet can help a child to prepare for the loss of important people in their lives. Grieving a pet can help them experience the grieving process and learn mechanisms with which to cope with loss later in their lives.
CHILDREN'S RESPONSE TO GRIEF
There are various theories that suggest how children generally respond to grief. As with adults, all children are different.
From birth to three years of age, children will tend to see a death or loss as abandonment, loss or separation. They may not find this as distressing as an older child, because they do not fully understand what is happening. The main element to a child of this age is the impact it has on their routine and security AND how adults around them behave. If there is little impact on their routine, then they will eventually come to terms with the situation.
Three to six years – the child will see things as temporary or changeable. They may believe that if they think hard enough or want something enough, that they can cause things to happen, like their parent coming back. This is known as “magical thinking”. But this can cause problems for the child as they may start to believe they haven’t been good enough or wanted something hard enough. They may have nightmares or become confused. Some children may regress to an earlier stage of development, whilst others may appear unaffected by the death.
From seven to eight years a child will come to understand that death is final. They will understand perhaps from other losses, such as the loss of a pet. They may be very interested in the details of a death, what happens to the body, where does a person go when they die and so on. The child will often watch others and how they react to know how they should be responding.
From nine and upwards, a child will know that death is final. They will also understand that they could also die. They may show the same behaviours as a grieving adult, but may also “act out” their grief with behavioural changes at home and at school.
Some children and adolescents may “act out” in response to a loss. How they think and feel can also be affected. After a death or loss, a child obviously experiences a situation where someone they are used to is gone. But there may also be situations where other family members are unavailable. If a parent dies or leaves, the other parent will also be grieving and may not be as responsive and available to the child as he or she was previously. They may not be able to cope with normal child care because of how they feel.
Children tend to assume the world is a nice place, but when negative situations happen, they may start to act out or show self-destructive or inappropriate behaviours. Adults should be aware that it is normal for a child to feel grief and loss after a death, but that some behaviours and thoughts are not appropriate and then a child may need professional help to help them come to terms with their loss.