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What Is Involved in Grief Counseling for Children?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 March 2014
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Grief counseling for children may be important in situations when children are forced to face a painful loss. How counseling is managed may depend on the age and response of the child, as well as the specific circumstance of the loss. Grief counseling for children may be recommended after the death of a sibling or parent, loss of an extended family member, or even the loss of a beloved pet.

Children may grieve differently from adults, in part because of the fact that their concepts of death and reality are somewhat less formed. A very young child may not be able to readily grasp the idea of the permanence of death, and may be struck with profound grief and confusion over where the dead person is and why he or she can't see the deceased again. Parents may be at a loss to describe the situation accurately, or may be unable to cope with the sometimes intense grieving of children. Grief counseling for children can help educate parents or guardians in how to talk about death, as well as help children cope with the new and sometimes deep feelings of grief.

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Some grief counseling for children is referred to as anticipatory, which means it may begin before a death occurs. This is often recommended in cases where there is a terminal illness in a parent or sibling that may take several months or even years to conclude. Counselors can help guide children through the often complex and contradictory feelings that accompanied an extended terminal illness, including anger, fear, and even jealousy or impatience.

With teenagers, grief counseling may have a broader perspective. Already faced with the rapidly changing and tumultuous experience of adolescence, grief may profoundly affect a teen's ideas of reality, humanity, and mortality. People may mistakenly think that the loss of an early romantic partner or death of a classmate cannot be emotionally traumatic for a teenager; some may even accuse teens of dramatizing the situation for attention. In actuality, however, the loss of first love or death of even a passing acquaintance may cause severe grief and raise important questions for a teen. Grief counseling for teenagers can help them find the validation for their emotions and experiences that family and friends may not offer.

Depending on the age of the child, grief counseling for children may involve activities, such as drawing pictures, sentence finishing games, or simply having conversations about the situations. Some counselors may recommend group therapy for older children so that they can be with other children experiencing the same issues. It is important for parents and guardians to stay involved with grief counseling for children in order to help continue the educational and emotional process in the home environment. On the other hand, particularly with older children, it is also important to grant them some level of privacy about therapy, so that they feel free to express emotions without fear of a parent getting angry or upset.

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