Cathy A. Malchiodi, LPCC, LPAT
This article is reprinted from TLC’s Journal, TRAUMA AND LOSS: Research and Interventions, Volume 3, Number 1, 2003
Exposure to the death of a loved one—whether a parent, sibling, or family pet– is a painful experience for children and usually requires intervention to explore and facilitate expression of feelings and questions about loss and tragedy. Drawing is one activity that can help both the trauma specialist and children who are grieving a death identify feelings and understand loss through sensory means. This article discusses how children perceive death at various ages and stages, how sudden traumatic death impacts children, and how drawing and creative activities can be important in work with children who experience the loss of a parent or loved one.
Children’s Expression of Grief
The National Association of School Psychologists (2001) summarizes the range of children’s grief reactions as follows: .
• Emotional shock– Children may have a noticeable lack of affect, appear numb, lack reaction to events, or seem depersonalized. This behavior may serve as way to detach from the pain of moment or memories of loss..
• Regressive behaviors – Children may suddenly need to sleep in a parent’s bed or may have difficulty separating from parents, family members, or caretakers, or may need to be held or rocked..
• Repetitious behavior– Children may repeat play activities or themes or stories in their drawings. They also may repeatedly ask the same questions because a death has been hard to believe or accept; these questions, however, can help to identify any misinformation the child may have about the event.
• Sudden mood swings or unusual behavior– Children may suddenly seem irritable, frustrated, fearful, or helpless, reflections of their internal feelings and their need to find control over a situation they have little control.