Introduction

There are growing number of resources including the literature from 2000 to present, however, there is not a comprehensive document that provides a clear view of interventions on grief and loss in particular for young children, for sudden death from trauma and for professionals who are on the front lines of caring for grieving children.

The subject matter is based on more than 25 years of experience as a Certified Child Life Specialist (Link: about the author) working with children who are facing death of someone they love or facing their own death. That experience with death from chronic illness has been expanded by consultation with children who survive fatal family violence and children who are in the care of an agency with line staff and foster parents. Those lessons have been augmented by children, families, line staff and entire agencies that struggle with this ultimate life issue of death. Their struggle brings us lessons that can help all of us. This includes well intended professionals who are given this task with little or no training or support. Join me in this endless role of a student in this journey to look at what death means to us and how we can better serve our children and their families.

“Grief is not an illness that needs to be cured. It’s not a task with definable, sequential steps. It’s not a bridge to cross, a burden to bear, or an experience to recover from. It is a normal, healthy, and predictable response to loss."

D. Schuurman, The Dougy Center

Grief and Loss

Children's grief is not an isolated problem it is global. In today's changing world children have become exposed more and more to death, school and community violence, trauma, terrorism, murder, abuse and suicide. Thus, children feel unprotected by the adult world and imprints are placed in innocent minds and add to their vulnerability. Children die and children lose loved ones to death, separation, and loss. As ordinary people, we may choose to avoid talking about this topic, but when serving children and families, we need knowledge and skills to deal with this difficult topic. Our avoidance can take several forms, for example, we may not know what to say, or an emotional trigger or memory may prompt our silence We must begin by facing our own losses and imprints from our past (Link: Personal HX of loss inventory) in order to professionally assist children and families. We are our major barrier and we are our major resource.

Childhood Grief

Children are faced with one of the hardest lessons in life when it comes to understanding and experiencing the death of a loved one. The greatest challenges come to those who are responsible for helping and explaining death to children. Supporting and empowering children in difficult moments helps them to begin coping with the realities of life.

The loss of a loved one for children can have significant implications. Research has demonstrated that the most vulnerable age for children losing a parent to be six months to four years, and children younger than four are more susceptible to pathological outcomes. We know that children of any age recognize loss through they may respond to grief in unique ways. They express their grief through their emotions, behavior, physical reactions, and thoughts. Children develop an understanding of what death means as they grow and have new life experiences. As professionals working with grieving children we must consider their physical, cognitive, spiritual, emotional, social, cultural and religious beliefs to help children cope and understand death.