• Helping your Child Cope with the Sudden Death of a Friend:

     

     
    A Message to Parents
    Parents, with their greater life experiences and wisdom, can place the events in a
    child’s life in its proper context or perspective. Children look to adults for an
    interpretation of events, and measure the meaning of it, including the degree of danger
    they are in, by the reaction of their parents and other adults around them. It is critical
    that children are able to maintain a positive view of the world and a positive opinion of
    themselves in spite of the event.
    The grieving process:
    Grieving is a natural and temporary response to an important loss. People do not
    respond to a death related loss in any particular stage progression or pace. Some
    believe that the process is more like a roller coaster type pattern in which waves of
    various emotions are experienced. It is important to encourage children to cry if they
    feel sad. It can be said that when we feel really sad, letting ourselves cry is as
    important to our mental health as is eating when we are hungry, drinking when we are
    thirsty and sleeping when we are tired.
    Most individuals return to their regular routines within one to three days. Yet a
    sustained period of bereavement may last four to six weeks. An intermittent pattern of
    bereavement continues in the form of painful thoughts and feelings which often
    resurface in the future more intensely at birth and death dates, holidays and special
    events, places or other experiences that are reminders of the deceased. Memories of
    the deceased may change or diminish over time but the deceased friend will not be
    forgotten.
    Common reactions to the death of a friend:
    In addition to sadness, it is common for people to feel confusion, fear, anger, selfblame and guilt. Other common reactions include feelings of loneliness, a sense of
    responsibility or regret, reminders and dreams of the deceased, concentration
    difficulties, minor sleeping difficulties and mild somatic complaints.
    What can parents do?
    A parent’s emotional response to a grieving child can reduce the emotional effect or
    make it worse for the child.
    • The following are suggested parental responses: Be physically present, show
    warmth, be patient, allow the child to talk about it, listen carefully, acknowledge
    feelings, show an understanding of what happened, give reasonable reassurance
    and follow through on promises and agreements made. Teens will try to make
    some sense of what happened and it is important for them to come to a resolution
    about the event. Carefully challenge any negative conclusions and reinforce the
    positive ones.
    • The following parental behaviors can be harmful: Focus on self instead of the child,
    deny the seriousness of the event, shrug off the child’s feelings, tell the child not to
    think or talk about it, make assumptions, overreact with anxiety or anger, withdraw
    from the child, or make major changes in the normal household activities and
    routines.
    Reactions to be concerned about:
    Some children, because of their emotional proximity to the death event, may be more
    prone to develop the psychological symptoms of Major Depression. There are two
    causes for Major Depression. One is the result of a neuro-chemical imbalance in the
    brain. The other results from an experience such as a significant loss. Your child may
    have Major Depression if the following five (or more) symptoms have been present
    during the same two week period:
    • Feeling really unhappy, sad or empty inside most of the day, nearly every day
    [Or]:
    • An obvious loss of interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, friends and activities
    most of the day, nearly every day
    [Plus 4 or more of the following]:
    • Weight loss when not dieting or weight gain (more than 5% of body weight in a
    month)
    • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much nearly every day
    • Slowness of thought, speech and activity or extreme agitation/restlessness
    • Feelings of low energy or fatigue nearly every day
    • Feeling hopeless, worthless, shame or a lot of guilt nearly every day
    • Difficulty concentrating, making basic decisions and doing school work nearly
    every day
    • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
    Other undesirable reactions include denial, social alienation, escape from reminders of
    the deceased, numbing of feelings, ex. using drugs or alcohol, hostility or antisocial
    activities, a preoccupation or fascination with death and unnecessary risk taking
    behaviors.
    If you are concerned about your child you may want to contact your family physician,
    or a psychologist or social worker in your child’s school or community.
    References:
    American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
    Disorders, Fourth Edition. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 1994.
    Grollman, E. “Explaining Death And Dying To Our Children And Ourselves” Elgin, IL.
    January 28, 2000.
    Johnson, K. (1989) Trauma in the Lives of Children. Alameda, CA: Hunter House.
    Copyright  2000 and 2007 by Jerry Ciffone, LCSW School Social Worker, School
    District U-46, Elgin, IL.
    Helping your Child Cope with a Traumatic Death:
    A Message to Parents
    Parents, with their greater life experiences and wisdom, can place the events in a child’s
    life in its proper context or perspective. Children look to adults for an interpretation of
    events, and measure the meaning of it, including the degree of danger they are in, by the
    reaction of their parents and other adults around them. It is critical that children are able to
    maintain a positive view of the world and a positive opinion of themselves in spite of the
    event.
    The grieving process:
    Grieving is a natural and temporary response to an important loss. People do not respond
    to a death related loss in any particular stage progression or pace. Some believe that the
    process is more like a roller coaster type pattern in which waves of various emotions are
    experienced. It is important to encourage children to cry if they feel sad. It can be said
    that when we feel really sad, letting ourselves cry is as important to our mental health as is
    eating when we are hungry, drinking when we are thirsty and sleeping when we are tired.
    Most individuals return to their regular routines within one to three days. Yet a sustained
    period of bereavement may last four to six weeks. An intermittent pattern of bereavement
    continues in the form of painful thoughts and feelings which often resurface in the future
    more intensely at birth and death dates, holidays and special events, places or other
    experiences that are reminders of the deceased. Memories of the deceased may change
    or diminish over time but the deceased friend will not be forgotten.
    Common reactions to the death of a friend:
    In addition to sadness, it is common for people to feel confusion, fear, anger, self-blame
    and guilt. Other common reactions include feelings of loneliness, a sense of responsibility
    or regret, reminders and dreams of the deceased, concentration difficulties, minor sleeping
    difficulties and mild somatic complaints.
    What can parents do?
    A parent’s emotional response to a grieving child can reduce the emotional effect or make
    it worse for the child.
    • The following are suggested parental responses: Be physically present, show warmth,
    be patient, allow the child to talk about it, listen carefully, acknowledge feelings, show
    an understanding of what happened, give reasonable reassurance and follow through
    on promises and agreements made. Teens will try to make some sense of what
    happened and it is important for them to come to a resolution about the event.
    Carefully challenge any negative conclusions and reinforce the positive ones.
    • The following parental behaviors can be harmful: Focus on self instead of the child,
    deny the seriousness of the event, shrug off the child’s feelings, tell the child not to
    think or talk about it, make assumptions, overreact with anxiety or anger, withdraw
    from the child, or make major changes in the normal household activities and routines.
    Reactions to be concerned about:
    Some children, because of their emotional proximity to the death event, may be more
    prone to develop the psychological symptoms of Major Depression. There are two causes
    for Major Depression. One is the result of a neuro-chemical imbalance in the brain. The
    other results from an experience such as a significant loss. Your child may have Major
    Depression if the following five (or more) symptoms have been present during the same
    two week period:
    • Feeling really unhappy, sad or empty inside most of the day, nearly every day
    [Or]:
    • An obvious loss of interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, friends and activities
    most of the day, nearly every day
    [Plus 4 or more of the following]:
    • Weight loss when not dieting or weight gain (more than 5% of body weight in a
    month)
    • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much nearly every day
    • Slowness of thought, speech and activity or extreme agitation/restlessness
    • Feelings of low energy or fatigue nearly every day
    • Feeling hopeless, worthless, shame or a lot of guilt nearly every day
    • Difficulty concentrating, making basic decisions and doing school work nearly
    every day
    • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
    Other undesirable reactions include denial, social alienation, escape from reminders of the
    deceased, numbing of feelings, ex. using drugs or alcohol, hostility or antisocial activities,
    a preoccupation or fascination with death and unnecessary risk taking behaviors.
    Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
    A child’s response to a near death experience, witnessing a death or serious injury,
    hearing about the death of a friend, living through a natural or man made disaster, etc.
    usually involves intense fear and helplessness. There may also be feelings of anger,
    horror, shame, or disgust.
    A near death experience, witnessing a death or witnessing a serious injury is often
    sudden, unexpected, shocking and overwhelming. Children and teen-agers may be less
    able than adults to cope with traumatic events because they have fewer skills to draw
    upon, are less experienced and are also less aware of the dangers in life. Furthermore,
    when bad things happen to adults they are, because of their greater life experience and
    wisdom, usually more prepared to place the event in its proper perspective or context.
    When traumatic things happen to a child, a number of predictable reactions may occur.
    These reactions are common responses to abnormally upsetting events. Some affected
    children are able to effectively cope by thoroughly talking about the traumatic event and
    their reaction to it. Those who do not are more likely to develop symptoms. Symptoms
    are those changes which cause major distress in the person or badly interfere with his or
    her relationship with family or friends, performance at school, sports, their job or other
    activities. Such symptoms may appear within 24 hours of the traumatic experience, or
    they may be delayed by several days, weeks or months.
    Traumatic events can produce intrusive experiences, avoidance behaviors and increased
    arousal that may affect both daily activities and dreaming. Research shows that once they
    occur, these thoughts and behaviors will not just fade away. In fact they may grow worse
    as they are triggered repeatedly by cues similar to the original trauma. According to the
    American Psychiatric Association (1994) the following are some examples of intrusive
    experiences, avoidance behaviors and increased arousal:
    • visions, thoughts or other sensations of the traumatic incident that occur over and over
    again, against one’s will and at undesirable times
    • nightmares or recurring dreams that may or may not seem related to the incident
    • cold sweats, heart palpitations, dizziness, panic feelings, or extreme nervousness
    when reminded in some way of the event
    • attempts to avoid certain people, conversations, places, activities, or any other thing
    associated with the event
    • feeling emotionally detached or estranged from friends
    • loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
    • amnesia or an inability to recall an important or obvious aspect of the event
    • negative or empty thoughts about the future
    • difficulty falling or staying asleep
    • irritable moods or unusual outbursts of anger
    • concentration problems
    • a fear or phobia not present before the traumatic event
    • exaggerated reaction to; unexpected sounds, being touched without warning, certain
    smells and certain sights
    These symptoms are the mind and body’s way of trying to avoid or protect the distressed
    person from the intrusive experiences and future traumas. They are tolerable if they come
    and go shortly after the event and do not affect the person’s everyday functioning or
    routine. If you believe your child may have symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,
    especially if they have persisted for more than a month, you should seek help for your
    child from a mental health professional who specializes in the treatment of Post-Traumatic
    Stress Disorder.
    If you have other concerns about how your child is adjusting to the event you may want to
    contact your family physician, a psychologist or social worker in your child’s school, or a
    mental health professional in your community.
    References:
    American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,
    Fourth Edition. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 1994.
    Grollman, E. “Explaining Death And Dying To Our Children And Ourselves” Elgin, IL.
    January 28, 2000.
    Johnson, K. (1989) Trauma in the Lives of Children. Alameda, CA: Hunter House.
    Copyright  2000 and 2007 by Jerry Ciffone, LCSW School Social Worker, School District
    U-46, Elgin, IL.

Last Modified on April 12, 2019