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The Grieving Child: Part Two

by Deb Sims, MS,RNCS,LCSW

In the last article about children and grief, I talked about the myths of grieving in children and adolescents. I'd like to continue with the following information. Children and adolescents definitely go through a grief cycle just as adults do. However, the way it may be expressed is different based on the developmental age of the child. I hope the following information will help in understanding the age and grief expression relationship. This is dedicated to all who have ever lost a loved one especially as a child.

Developmental stages in a child's understanding of Death or Loss

During very early childhood approximately birth to age 3, a child views death as a loss, separation or abandonment. They have difficulty understanding the whole concept of death.

How to help your child at this age. The most important element at this stage is the response of the living parent and significant others around them. If that security remains intact and schedules remain as normal as possible, they eventually make it through. They take their clues from the security or lack of it around them. It isn't that they don't grieve and we shouldn't pretend nothing has happened, it's just they gain security and transition based on the living parent's response to their own grief.

Ages 3 to 6: At this stage a child sees things as reversible and temporary. They may believe in "magical thinking." In their mind they believe thoughts can cause things to happen.


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