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What do we tell the Children? Dr. Katie Koehler Assistant Director of Bereavement Services Formerly known as The Child Bereavement Trust.

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Presentation on theme: "What do we tell the Children? Dr. Katie Koehler Assistant Director of Bereavement Services Formerly known as The Child Bereavement Trust."— Presentation transcript:

1 What do we tell the Children? Dr. Katie Koehler Assistant Director of Bereavement Services Formerly known as The Child Bereavement Trust

2 A simple child That lightly draws its breath And feels its life in every limb What should it know of death? William Wordsworth, We are seven

3 The Elephant in the Room There’s an elephant in the room. We all know it’s there. We are thinking about the elephant as we talk together. It is constantly in our minds. For, you see, it is a very large elephant. It has hurt us all. But we don’t talk about the elephant in the room. Terry Kettering

4 Families in grief At a time when partners need each other most and children need their parents, they are often unable to be emotionally available to each other because they are consumed with their own grief.

5 Factors affecting the grieving process Relationship with person who died ‘Recovery’ environment Circumstances of death/dying The child, personality, background

6 Tasks of Mourning To accept the reality of the loss To experience the pain of grief To adjust to an environment in which the person who has died is missing To emotionally relocate the person and move on with life J William Worden

7 Everyday Life Experience Loss-oriented Grief work Intrusion of grief Breaking bonds/ties Denial/avoidance of restoration changes Restoration- oriented Attending to life changes Doing new things Distraction from grief Denial/avoidance of grief New roles/identity/ relationship A Dual Process Model of Coping with Bereavement Stroebe & Schut (1999)

8 In working with grieving families, we all bring our own hurts and losses feelings about loss by death desire to care for others ability to reach out and involve ourselves inability, when overpowered by the horror or tragedy of a child’s death and our own sadness “A Child Dies; a Portrait of Family Grief.” Joan Hagan Arnold & Penelope Buschman Gemma

9 Effects of bereavement on children Physical health Cognitive responses Behavioural responses Emotional responses

10 Indirect impact Closed communication that can be detrimental (Holliday 2002). The nature of the sibling relationship (Hindmarch 2000) Role of the surviving sibling is affected (Holliday 2002) Parental overprotection can affect self esteem and independence (Gibbons 1992) (Holliday 2002)

11 Secondary losses Loss of security Loss of attention Loss of normality Loss of confidence

12 Children’s experience of bereavement Loss of the living as well as the dead Adults can seek support, children are left with what is given to them Act out feelings rather than speak them Revisit their grief at each life stage

13 What can we do to help? Understanding, love and sensitivity To be involved Honesty Information Opportunity to express feelings To revisit their grief as they become older

14 Children can only cope with what they know Wolfelt 1996

15 Resilience Is promoted by: –Temperament –Scholastic competence –Self-esteem –Supportive relationships –Communication –Ability to share –Familial emotional support

16 Family Support Bereaved children are protected by their relationships with surviving family members (Harrington & Harrison 1999) Families with higher cohesion, active/recreational orientation and moral/religious emphasis had children with fewer behaviour problems post bereavement (Davies 1988)

17 Be honest As soon as possible: or may undermine confidence in adults Begin talking to the child about what he/she experienced or noticed Use the adult reality How do I talk to a child about death?

18 Let him/her ask questions as often as he/she wants Answer questions accurately Watch out for the child’s tendency to blame him/herself Give clear message it was not his/her fault Encourage child to remember and talk about the person who has died How do I talk to a child about death?

19 The Guiding Principles Young people need, want and deserve honesty, truth and choices. You can not “fix it”. Grief is a normal, healthy, response to loss Based on an article written by Donna Schuurman, The Dougy Centre

20 Award-winning publications and resources

21 Website Families Discussion Forum Support and Information Line:

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