Loss and grief are difficult experiences and concepts for adults – loss and grief in children add a dimension to their developing bodies and brains that, if not acknowledged, validated, and coregulated, could cause harmful issues of compensation.
If loss is not appropriately or fully acknowledged and grief is not tended to, children can develop problematic behaviors, somatic distress such as headaches and stomach-aches, engrained patterns of dysregulation, as well as poor, ineffective coping skills and difficulty growing appropriate and much needed self-support. Loss experienced by children can also often result in self-blame, feelings of low worth, and shame.
Parents and other loving adults in children’s lives want to help them. Often, as parents and caregivers, we can’t tolerate a child’s pain ourselves, and do whatever we can to help them “feel better.” Our efforts can be well-meaning and full of love, and still have the effect of ignoring a child’s pain and grief. Telling a child it will be okay, not to worry, or that you will, in some way, shoulder their burden, often has the exact opposite effect of its intention. Glossing over, trying to fix, explain away, make-up for, and distract children from their grief often leaves them feeling disconnected, confused, frightened, and alone with their powerful and concerning feelings.
Often, unlike and confusing to many adults, children tend to experience both grief and restoration orientation simultaneously – laughing and playing one moment and crying, sad, and needing attention the next. As our brains and bodies prioritize survival over grief, depending on the situation, a child may seem completely fine, and then suddenly drain of self-support, manifested by regressed or inappropriate behaviors, sadness, anxiety, and/or a generalized “neediness.”
Therapists at CFCE can help. We routinely work with children at all stages of life and are trained in grief counseling and how grief and loss affects and impacts growing stages of development. Grief looks different in infancy, school-age children, adolescence, the teen years, and in emerging adults. The effects of loss do not always correlate with what society readily accepts. A child may suffer terrible grief when their dog is lost, but not cry when a grandparent dies. It’s possible the dog was a valued confidant and now the child feels alone. It is important to listen to children compassionately, understand where their fears and concerns lie, validate their pain, and help them to create effective and nurturing coping strategies.
We want to help grieving children, teens, and emerging adults and offer a loving presence. Whether they are suffering a death, abuse, divorce, illness, move of a friend, loss of a pet, or any other loss – they are all changes to their identity and affect their growing brain.
We work with grieving individuals and families to help acknowledge, validate, and process loss. Through compassionately acknowledging body sensations, thoughts, and feelings, we are here to help with meaning-making, growing self-support, and nurturing hope for the future.
The novel coronavirus and COVID-19 have caused losses beyond those of life, health, and safety. We recognize the multitude of behavioral and emotional issues associated with these losses. Children have had to navigate losses of in-person schooling, missing friends and teachers, playing, and individual grade traditions, parties, and proms – all important social learning experiences. As well, maturational (common) losses can be compounded by the postponement or cancelation of typical and celebrated seminal moments, like graduations, anticipated family vacations, and weddings. Though we may be experiencing shared losses, these losses impact us each differently. There is no loss, that if felt deeply, is “inconsequential,” “too small,” or “too shared” to acknowledge, validate, and receive help processing.