If a child you love has experienced a profound loss, he or she may benefit from professional grief counseling. Whether the loss is that of a family member, friend or even a pet, the grieving child may exhibit feelings of depression or aggression, or inability to concentrate at school. When a child's grief interferes with his or her life, or the sadness is prolonged, a counselor's goal is to help the child deal with the loss and resume a healthy and functional routine. Here are three steps to healing that may be incorporated through professional counseling services:
It's important to allow the child to accept his or her feelings of sadness regarding the loss. The counselor will help the child understand that is is acceptable to feel angry or sad. Forcing a child to suppress these feelings may prolong the grieving process, or manifest into further complications.
A counselor may speak with the child's parent or guardian, explaining how statements such as,"Be strong for Mommy" or "No more tears" may actually have a negative impact on the child. Individual, group or family sessions with a grief counselor may help the child express his or her feelings in a healthy way. Conversely, if the child does not want to talk about the loss, a counselor will respect that.
2. Creating a Positive Outlet
Some children express their grief through aggression or other negative behaviors. Once those issues have been identified, the counselor may help provide a positive outlet. For instance, if the child has been bullying or hitting siblings or classmates, allow him or her to unleash the pent-up frustration in an acceptable and constructive manner. This may be as simple as taking up a sport or sparring with a punching bag at the gym.
There are other ways to create a positive outlet for the grieving child. The grief counselor may help the child through creativity. This might involve:
Play Acting: The counselor might allow the child to express his or her feelings by role playing. This may be done with the use of hand puppets or dolls. One puppet or doll might represent the child, while another represents the lost loved one.
Writing a Letter: Some children find comfort in writing letters to the deceased individual. By doing so, the child is free to express his or her feelings and feel a sense of "connection" to the lost loved one. It may also bring about closure, especially if the child has not has not a chance to say goodbye. To do so, the child might wish to attach the letter to a balloon and release it into the heavens.
Drawing: The counselor might ask the child to draw a picture of the family or another type of drawing. This may provide some insight. The counselor might look for subtle clues in the drawings that can help "flush out" the child's feelings or fears.
3. Keeping Memories Alive Some adults are under the assumption that reminders such as framed photos or personal belongings of the deceased should be out of the child's sight. This may not be a healthy approach, as it forces the belief that a loved one should be forgotten. Instead, the counselor might ask the child if he or she would like to make a scrapbook filled with photos of happy times. This might include family photos taken together or those that evoke pleasant memories.
Grief counseling for children may be helpful through individual sessions or supportive group therapy. In many cases, family members are encouraged to participate as well. The counselor may suggest which method will be most beneficial for the child.