When Children Grieve: For Adults to Help Children Deal with Death, Divorce, Pet Loss, Moving, and Other Losses

When Children Grieve: For Adults to Help Children Deal with Death, Divorce, Pet Loss, Moving, and Other Losses


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To watch a child grieve and not know what to do is a profoundly difficult experience for parents, teachers, and caregivers. Yet, there are guidelines for helping children develop a lifelong, healthy response to loss.

In When Children Grieve, the authors offer a cutting-edge volume to free children from the false idea of "not feeling bad" and to empower them with positive, effective methods of dealing with loss.

There are many life experiences that can produce feelings of grief in a child, from the death of a relative or a divorce in the family to more everyday experiences such as moving to a new neighborhood or losing a prized possession. No matter the reason or degree of severity, if a child you love is grieving, the guidelines examined in this thoughtful book can make a difference.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060084295
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/04/2002
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 122,652
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.65(d)

About the Author

John W. James and Russell Friedman have been working with grievers for more than thirty years. They have served as consultants to thousands of bereavement professionals and provide Grief Recovery® Seminars and Certification Programs throughout the United States and Canada. They are the founders of the Grief Recovery Institute®.

John W. James and Russell Friedman have been working with grievers for more than thirty years. They have served as consultants to thousands of bereavement professionals and provide Grief Recovery® Seminars and Certification Programs throughout the United States and Canada. They are the founders of the Grief Recovery Institute®.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

What's the Problem and Whose Problem Is It?

Because you are reading this book, there is a high probability that your child or a child in your care has experienced one or more losses. It is impossible to set down a list of losses that would have universal application to everyone reading this book. The following list represents the most common losses, in the sequence most likely to occur in a child's life.

Death of a pet

Death of a grandparent

Major move

Divorce of a child's parents

Death of a parent[s]

Death of a playmate, friend, or relative

Debilitating injury to the child or to someone important in the child's life

The fact that one or more of the losses listed has occurred is only part of the problem. The other part is that you may not know exactly what to do to help your child deal with his or her feelings about this loss.

What's the Problem?

Something has occurred that is negatively affecting your child. You may be aware of this because of the ways in which your child is behaving. Many of the normal and natural signs of grief are fairly obvious. Most of those signs would be the same for a child's reaction to a death, a divorce, or some other type of loss. But for now, we will use a child's response to news about a death. Often the immediate response to learning of a death is a sense of numbness. That numbness lasts a different amountof time for each child. What usually lasts longer, and is even more universal, is a reduced ability to concentrate.

Other common reactions include major changes in eating and sleeping patterns. Those patterns can alternate from one extreme to the other. Also typical is a roller coaster of emotional highs and lows. As we mention these reactions, please notice that we are not labeling them as stages. They are simply some of the normal ways in which the body, the mind, and especially the emotions respond to the overwhelmingly painful information that something out of the ordinary has occurred. These reactions to a death are normal and typical even if there has been a long-term illness, which may have included substantial time and opportunity to "prepare" for that which will inevitably happen. We cannot prepare ourselves or our children, in advance, for the emotional reaction to a death.

This book (on behalf of your children) is about your child's reaction to death and other losses, and what you can do to help him or her. Because the topic of grief and potential recovery is so obscured by fear and misinformation, we are going to encourage you to examine the ideas you currently have about dealing with loss and to consider seriously whether those ideas are valuable for helping your child. We are going to presume that you are reading this book because you are eager to acquire the ideas and tools that will enable you to begin helping your child right away. So, let's get to work.

What is Grief, Anyway?

We have used the word grief several times in the opening pages of this book. Perhaps we should define the word for you, in the interest of clarity and mutual understanding. Many people associate the word grief only with physical death. We use a much broader definition that encompasses all loss experiences:

Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by a change or
an end in a familiar pattern of behavior.

As you'll recall, our list of losses included the death of a pet, death of a grandparent, moving, divorce of a child's parents, and death of a parent. Each of those losses represents a massive change or end from everything familiar. With death, the person or pet that has always been there is no longer there. With moving, the familiar place and surroundings are different. Divorce alters all of the routines in a child's life: it often includes changes in living situations and separation from extended family members and friends.

The losses we have listed carry with them the obvious emotional impact that we can all imagine would affect our children. But our definition of grief includes the idea that there are conflicting feelings. The concept of conflicting feelings requires a little bit of explanation. If you have ever had a loved one who struggled for a long time with a terminal illness, you may have had some feelings of relief when that person died. The relief usually stems from the idea that your loved one is no longer in pain. At the same time, your heart may have felt broken because he or she was no longer here. So the conflicting feelings are relief and sadness.

Moving also sets up conflicting feelings. We may miss some of the familiar things that we liked about the old house or neighborhood, and at the same time really like some of the things about the new place. Children are particularly affected by changes in locations, routines, and physical familiarity.

Obvious and Hidden Losses

Death, divorce, and even moving are obvious losses. Less apparent are losses having to do with health issues. A major change in the physical or mental health of a child or a parent can have dramatic impact on a child's life. And even though children are not usually directly involved with financial matters, they can be affected by major financial changes, positive or negative, within their family.

Society has identified more than forty life experiences that produce feelings of grief. At The Grief Recovery Institute we have expanded that list to include many of the loss experiences that are less concrete and thus are difficult to measure. Loss of trust, loss of safety, and loss of control are the most prominent of the intangible but life-altering experiences that affect children's lives...

Table of Contents

Introduction: Put Your Oxygen Mask on Firstxii
Who Are We? And Why Have We Written This Book?xv
Part 1Monkey See, Monkey do1
Why Are You Reading This Book?3
Chapter 1What's the Problem and Whose Problem Is It?5
What's the Problem?6
What Is Grief, Anyway?7
Obvious and Hidden Losses8
Never Compare Losses8
Time Doesn't Heal--Actions Do9
Normal and Natural10
Crisis Behavior11
Between the Problem and the Solution: Six Major Myths12
Chapter 2Looking At Myth 1: Don't Feel Bad!14
Sweet but Dangerous15
Without Sadness, Joy Cannot Exist16
We Are Not Exaggerating16
Who's Responsible for Feelings?21
Chapter 3Looking at Myth 2: Replace the Loss, Part One24
All Relationships are Unique26
The Stolen Bicycle27
Toys and Dolls--Gone but Not Forgotten28
It's Time to Meet Leslie and Learn More about Cherished Possessions29
Replace the Loss, Part Two31
Chapter 4Looking at Myth 3: Grieve Alone33
Multigenerational Pass-Through34
Grieve Alone--A Closer Look36
Why Do People Grieve Alone?38
Is Alone Ever Okay?39
Here's Some Good News: Different Beliefs Produce Better Results For Children39
Pause to Reflect and Recap40
Chapter 5Looking at Myth 4: Be Strong42
Wait, There's More43
Strong or Human, Pick One!44
Chapter 6Looking at Myth 5: Keep Busy46
A Dangerous Illusion47
The Real Impact of Loss: Keeping Busy and Dwelling on Pain48
Dwelling on Pain Is Sometimes the Result of Not Being Heard50
Heard at Last51
Chapter 7Looking at Myth 6: Time Heals All Wounds54
Corporate Grief and Grief in the Classroom55
No Time Zones56
Part 2Moving From Grief to Recovery59
Chapter 8Looking for "The Book"61
John's Quest Continues64
Chapter 9What Is Incomplete Grief?67
Is Incomplete Grief Only about Bad Things?69
Chapter 10Helping the Helpers73
It's Easier to Fill an Empty Cup73
Scuba Diving Lessons74
The Critical Transition75
Boundless Capacity77
Delicate Strokes78
If Your Kids Are Older, Do Not Despair79
Do We Know Enough Yet?79
Chapter 11Short-Term Energy-Relieving Behaviors (S.T.E.R.B.s)80
Do You Know Where Your Child's Energy Is?82
Short-Term Relief Doesn't Work84
Recapping Part Two87
Part 3The Path to Completion89
What is Completion?
Chapter 12The Relationship Review91
Relationship Reviews Happen Automatically91
Who Goes First?92
Pick the Fruit When It's Ripe93
Chapter 13Real-Life Examples96
Out of the Mouths of Babes--Good-bye, Mr. Hamster96
All Grief Is Experienced at 100 percent98
The Death of a Pet98
Random Memories102
Chapter 14Helping Your Child Review the Relationship103
Sleeping in the Bed, or Not105
Minding the Steam Kettle106
Chapter 15The Emotional Energy Checklist107
Children and Their Pets: Reviewing Events and Emotions107
Emotional Energy Checklist: Death of a Pet110
Chapter 16What to Do with the Review113
Converting Emotional Energy Into Recovery Components113
Chapter 17Recovery Components116
Apologies First116
Apologies to Living People116
Apologies to People Who Have Died119
Should Parents Ever Apologize?119
Time Doesn't Create Completion: Actions Do120
Chapter 18Recovery Components: Forgiveness121
Forgiveness Is an Action, Not a Feeling123
Chapter 19Recovery Components: Significant Emotional Statements126
Are the Same Things Significant for Everyone?127
Some Significant Comments Require Forgiveness128
Fond Memories128
Recapping This Section129
Chapter 20Death of a Person132
Reviewing Relationships with People Who Have Died133
The Death of a Grandparent134
Uniqueness Is the Real Issue135
"Less Than Loved Ones"137
Complex Relationships137
Emotional Energy Checklist: Grandparent, Relative, or Close Acquaintance139
Recapping Part Three--Is It Soup Yet?143
Before We Move On, We Honor the Readers144
Part 4Moving from Discovery to Completion145
Chapter 21Continuing Litany vs. Freedom
Carrying the Litany Is a Heavy Load147
Exaggerated Memory Pictures149
Freedom Feels Better150
Chapter 22Zeroing In on Completion151
Chapter 23Delivering, Completing, and Saying Good-bye160
Leading Up to Jessica's Letter161
Jessica's Completion Letter to Thumper163
Entirely Different but Exactly the Same176
Chapter 24Very Close to NaNa169
Emotional Energy List--Grandparent, Relative, or Close Acquaintance176
Chronicling Events that Occur After a Death179
Amanda's Completion Letter to NaNa181
Chapter 25One More Letter183
Jeffrey's Letter184
New Discoveries185
What About Jeffrey's Sisters?186
Concluding Part Four187
Part 5Other Losses189
Focusing on Moving and Divorce189
Chapter 26The First Big Move191
Transitional Events193
Chapter 27What Not to Do194
Chapter 28On Divorce199
Leslie Gets the First Word--The Divorce of My Parents199
Chapter 29Bad New--Bad News202
Long Term or Sudden Impact202
Whose Divorce Is It?203
Multiple Losses204
Sometimes We Get Lucky206
Don't Fix Feelings207
Don't Be Fooled--Relief Is Only the Last Feeling208
Noble Sentiments, but Hearts Are Still Broken209
One Central Issue201
Unique Is Still the Bottom Line211
Where Is the Focus?212
Taking Sides213
Children Sometimes Blame Themselves214
What Can You Do to Help?214
Leslie Gets the Last Word, Too215
Part 6Closing up Shop219
Chapter 30The "D" Word221
Illusion of Protection222
Solid and Clear Reference Point222
Sometimes the World Travels Backward223
Talking About Death with Your Child224
Curiosity Helps Children Learn226
Chapter 31Euphemisms + Metaphors = Confusion230
Chapter 32Four Weddings and a Funeral?234
Forty-five Years Later, but Who's Counting237
Chapter 33Win-Win240
Chloe and Carrie Sue and the Real Meaning of Time240
Three Generations242
Spencer's Accidental Owners244
Tuning In to Elizabeth247
The Grief Recovery Groupie249
Our Completion with You252

What People are Saying About This

Fred Rogers

Fred Rogers,Producer/Host Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and Honorary Chairman of The Caring Place (a center for grieving children, adolescents, and their families)
There isn't anyone in life who hasn't experienced some kind of loss. It's comforting to know that we are not alone in our sadness and that practical, easy-to-read, thoughtful help is available by way of Russell Friedman, John James, and Leslie Landon Matthews gentle insights on the pages of When Children Grieve. Thank you, Neighbors, for your obvious care.

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When Children Grieve: For Adults to Help Children Deal with Death, Divorce, Pet Loss, Moving, and Other Losses 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book will helif you do the work.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
As a Mental Health Professional and specialist in the field of grief, I was asked to review the final manuscript of 'When Children Grieve.' In all honesty I could not put it down. It is easy to read, warm, truthful,and above all practical. Finally a book that tells you exactly what to do and why. I had the opportunity to use the information in 'When Children Grieve' with a group of boys ages 12-16 who were labeled 'behavioral/emotional' problems within the public school system. The results were incredible. It certainly reinforced the 'truths' of this book. If we taught our children these principles we would not have all the 'Columbine's' and 'Post Office' traumas that are frequently on the evening news. As a mother, I only wish I had this book when my children were young. I believe 'When Children Grieve' should be in the hands of EVERY person who encounters children both professionally and socially.