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Developmental Considerations Concerning Children's Grief



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SIDS Foundation of Washington


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Age Developmental Stage/Task Concept Of Death Grief Response Signs Of Distress Possible Interventions
2-4 Egocentric. Believes the world centers around them. Narcissistic. No cognitive understanding. Preconceptual - unable to grasp concepts. Death loss is seen as abandonment. Seen as reversible not permanent. Common statements: "Did you know my daddy died - when will he be home." Intensive response but brief. Very present oriented. Most aware of altered patterns of care. Regression: Eating & sleeping disorders bed wetting. insecurity. Short interactions. Frequent repetition. Comforting. Touching. Needs consistency more than anything else.
4-7 Gaining sense of autonomy. Exploring world outside of self. Gaining language. Fantasy thinking/wishing. Initiative phase seeing self as initiator. Concerns of guilt. Death still seen as reversible. Great personification of death. Feeling of responsibility because of wishes thoughts. Common statements "It's my fault; I was mad at her and wished she'd die". Verbalization. Great concern with process. How?? Why? Repetitive questioning. Wanting the answers to stay the same. May actually play dead or play funeral. Regression: Nightmares sleeping and eating disturbances. Violent play. Attempts to take on role of person who died. Symbolic play. Drawings /Stories. Allow/encourage expression of energy/feelings anger. Talk about it.
7-11 Concrete - operational. Industry vs. inferiority. Beginning of socialization. Development of cognitive ability. Beginning of logical thinking. Death as punishment. Fear of bodily harm, mutilation. This is a difficult transition period - still want to see death as reversible but beginning to see it as final. Specific questioning. Desire for complete detail. Concerned with how others are responding. What is the "right" way? How "should" they be responding? Starting to have ability to mourn and understand Mourning.. Regression: problems in school withdrawal from friends. Acting out. Sleeping and eating disturbances. Overwhelming concern with body. Suicidal thoughts (desire to join one who died). Role confusion. Answer questions. Encourage expression of range of feelings. Encourage/allow control. Be available/but allow alone time. Symbolic play. TALK ABOUT IT!
11-18 Formal Operational Problem Solving. Abstract Thinking. Integration of ones own personality. "ADULT" Approach. Ability to abstract. Beginning to truly conceptualize death. Work at making sense of teachings. Depression. Denial. Repression. More often willing to talk to people outside of family. Traditional mourning.. Depression. Anger. Anger toward parents. Noncompliance. Rejection of former teaching. Role confusion. Acting out Encourage verbalization. Do not take control. Encourage self motivation. Listen. Be available. Do not attempt to lake grief away.
© Margaret M. Metzgar M.A. 1 1301 5th Ave N.E. Seattle WA 98125 (206)367-488O Reprinted by the SIDS Foundation of Washington with permission of author. Reprinted here with permission from the SIDS Foundation of Washington.
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