Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Grief and Loss

With the new year comes new goals, hopes, and challenges. It can also mean letting go of some things from the past - an activity, a friendship, a loved one who passed. The idea of letting go can lead to grief and loss in children.

When children experience a loss, like adults, they feel it emotionally and physically. They may seem sad, anxious, lonely, irritable, distracted, fussy, fearful, angry, frustrated, or quiet. They may act out or withdraw or be upset by something that seemingly makes no sense. For very young children, their play may seem repetitive or unusual. They may report more stomach aches, headaches, and other pains and ailments.

Experiences of grief and feelings of loss need to be processed with children. Grief and loss that are left unattended have the potential to lie dormant until the next big life challenge for the child, where these feelings are likely to be reawakened and compound the current struggle.

Helping a child mourn a loss can be done by providing a space that feels safe to explore emotions and physical sensations without judgment or fear of reprise. Helping the child find words to express the feelings, acknowledging fears and worry, and just being physically present and patient create an atmosphere of comfort and security that allow the child's feelings to emerge. Once the child is aware of these feelings and has the chance to talk, draw, or play them out, the feelings have much less control over them and their behavior.

So, if a child has had a recent loss, even if it does not seem like it would be a big deal, pay attention to his/her mood and behaviors. It may have had more of an impact than one might imagine.