Many things that cause serious problems for children can happen in a family. Whether these involve physical trauma or emotional upheaval, the child needs special support to cope with the crisis at hand.
The loss of a parent can be a loss caused by death, or it can be a loss as separation or divorce. In either case, a child must he helped to deal with his reaction to the loss, and the family unit must be given help in reorganizing into a new structure.
In the case of a death, the matter involves a complex set of reactions to grieving and to total loss. The child must be given the chance to work through and express the feelings associated with this traumatic incident. The adult society, for reasons not totally logical, chooses a “stiff upper lip” and “the show must go on” attitude at losing a loved one. To ask this of a child presents many complications and potential pitfalls. Children usually react openly and instantly to emotions, thus gaining relief from stress and an experience of learning .society:, response to their emotions. It is obvious that maturing into society requires establishing emotional controls, but it also involves knowledge of the legitimacy of the emotions. One can experience anger and learn to control the emotion, but this involves the differentiation of appropriate anger, inappropriate anger, safe expression, realistic displacement, and practical controlling mechanisms. In other words, the emotion must he worked through. To work through the emotional response to the loss of a parent, a child needs the ventilating feeling of active grief, the acknowledgment of society toward the legitimacy of this feeling, and the reassuring acceptance by society that the feeling is not destructive and that external support is available.
The parent who has lost a spouse may be stretched to the limits of his or her emotional resources. Adults around this situation may tend to contain the stress by “sparing” the parent the upsetting need to help the child experience his grief. Thus, although the adult may find it easier to encourage the containment of feelings that are potentially discomforting to the child, this is done at the expense of leaving the feelings and needs unresolved.
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