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Beline Obeid

Assistance needed in grieving process

Ask the experts


August 16, 2012
Editor's note: This is Part I of a two-part series on how parents can help children through a loss.

Q. How should I talk with my children about losses in our community? I try to shield them, but over the past year they have heard a lot of discussion as people continue to struggle with deaths that have occurred in our community.

A. It is a parent's natural instinct to protect their children from difficult issues, but the fact that your kids are hearing so much about recent deaths in our community reflects our own reaction to these painful losses. Many young people and adults are experiencing the secondary trauma of a sudden death and a homicide of two well-known, engaged parents who were closely connected with many facets of our day to day lives in our schools, public service organizations, children's activities and social lives.

There are a number of factors that can influence the degree of distress experienced by children who are aware of a trauma in their community:

* How close the child is to the location of the threatening or frightening event?

* How close it is to where the child lives?

* How long a child's exposure is to the event, including exposure to media coverage?

* The degree of preoccupation with the event by adults with who the child is closest, and

* Whether the child had a relationship with the deceased or their family.

Children will experience loss in different ways, especially depending on their age. Children in their early school years are just beginning to understand death is permanent and may need to hear information about what happened over and over again. They are often matter of fact in how they talk about death and have many questions. Often they can't articulate how they feel, but demonstrate it in their behavior and play.

Older children can articulate their feelings better, though they may choose not to. They have a strong sense of right and wrong and may have strong views about what has happened. They often have a greater interest in spiritual questions and have a greater empathy about what others are going through in response to the death.

Teenagers can be greatly affected by grief. They can be become withdrawn or moody and often go to their friends for support more than their family. Teenagers may cover up their sadness with angry or acting out behavior, but they still need a great deal of support as well as a quiet place to deal with their grief.

When talking with your children about a loss due to violence, you may want to emphasize senseless violence is hard for everyone to understand, even grownups.

Sometimes people do bad things that hurt others because they may be unable to handle their anger, may be suffering from untreated mental illness, or may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Reiterate that violence is never a solution to personal problems and there are always viable alternatives.

Mary Beth Garvey is a clinical therapist who works with children, adolescents and adults. She can be reached at (313) 408-2180.

The Family Center, a 501 (c) (3), non-profit organization, serves as the community's centralized hub for information, resources and referral for families and professionals.

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