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The Grieving Child: Part One

by Deb Sims, MS,RNCS,LCSW

I was twelve when my father died. Thirty-nine years later, I look back and realize that at that time, children were thought of as invisible when it came to grief. But in actuality, children grieve just as adults do. Each child's journey through the grief process is unique. There are no rules on how it should be done correctly. However, there are some guidelines. It is my hope in writing this article that no other child or parent will never have to travel the grief road alone, as I did.

I lived through the MYTHS of childhood grief. They are as follows:

1. It is assumed that children do not grieve or grieve only at a certain age.

Actually, children grieve at any age. However, their developmental stage determines how it is manifested. We'll speak more about the developmental stages later in this article.

2. Death is the only major loss a child or adolescent will ever experience.

Any loss is a death process to a child. The loss of a pet, a divorce, and a move are all traumatic events and if a family member has died these losses may cause re-grieving. Re-grieving is a re-experiencing of a past loss. It intensifies the experience.

3. It is appropriate to shield children from tragedy.

I remember the minister telling me of my father's death. I had no idea what he was saying. His words were so vague and obscure that I didn't know he was telling me my father was dead. I walked back into the classroom to get my books and the little boy who sat next to me said, "I'm sorry your father died." That's when I knew what had happened. Standing in the middle of a silent classroom of peers, I learned what an adult couldn't tell me, my father had died.


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