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Children and Grief

    Table 2. Grief and Developmental Stages continued...

    In American society, many grieving adults withdraw into themselves and limit communication. In contrast, children often talk to those around them (even strangers) as a way of watching for reactions and seeking clues to help guide their own responses. It is not uncommon for children to repeatedly ask baffling questions. For example, a child may ask, "I know Grandpa died, but when will he come home?" This is thought to be a way of testing reality for the child and confirming the story of the death.

    Issues for grieving children

    There are three prominent themes in the grief expressions of bereaved children:

    1. Did I cause the death to happen?
    2. Is it going to happen to me?
    3. Who is going to take care of me?[2,7]

    Did I cause the death to happen?

    Children often engage in magical thinking, believing they have magical powers. If a mother says in exasperation, "You'll be the death of me," and later dies, her child may wonder whether he or she actually caused the death. Likewise, when two siblings argue, it is not unusual for one to say (or think), "I wish you were dead." If that sibling were to die, the surviving sibling might think that his or her thoughts or statements actually caused the death.

    Is it going to happen to me?

    The death of a sibling or other child may be especially difficult because it strikes so close to the child's own peer group. If the child also perceives that the death could have been prevented (by either a parent or doctor), the child may think that he or she could also die.

    Who is going to take care of me?

    Because children depend on parents and other adults for their safety and welfare, a child who is grieving the death of an important person in his or her life might begin to wonder who will provide the care that he or she needs now that the person is gone.

    Interventions for Grieving Children

    There are interventions that may help to facilitate and support the grieving process in children.

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