Children and Traumatic Grief

Child Therapy Sterling, VA

“No on ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Grief is a very natural response to loss. It is a loss of someone or something important to us. We usually think of grief when there is a death but it may also come at the end of a significant relationship or as the result of a medical diagnosis that changes the course of our lives. Trauma is an emotional reaction to being exposed to, witnessing, or experiencing an event that involves actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence. Traumatic grief is the response that occurs when these two experiences intersect. It is a loss that is not just sad, it shakes our core sense of safety in the world.

With school shootings and suicides on the rise, our children are being exposed on a regular basis to traumatic situations. When it hits closer to home and that trauma mixes with grief, a child may have a particularly difficult time resolving their feelings of loss. To complicate it even more, the child’s parent or caregiver is likely to be experiencing traumatic grief as well, making it challenging to be emotionally available for their child.

If a child you know has experienced a traumatic loss, you might begin to notice signs that they are stuck in negative thoughts, feelings, and images about the event. You might notice:

  • Changes in sleep patterns (staying up late or sleeping all day)
  • Regressive behaviors, such as bed-wetting in a child who has been potty trained for some time
  • Extreme emotions when separated from a caregiver. They may cry, become anxious, or have outbursts of anger.
  • Refusal to talk about the person who died. Or if, the individual experienced a life-changing medical situation, the child may avoid being around them.
  • A loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed.
  • Frequently sad
  • Outbursts of anger, often unrelated to the loss.
  • Difficulty concentrating in school or at home.
  • Frequent stomach aches, headaches, or difficulty breathing when anxious.
  • Feeling irrational guilt about the cause of the event.
  • Hypervigilance: easily startled, always on guard against perceived threats, easily irritated.
  • Self-injury and risky behaviors.

If you know a child who is experiencing some of the symptoms of traumatic grief, reach out to a counselor who works with children. It’s important for your child and for you to receive support and to have a safe place to work through these emotions. Our clinical staff includes counselors/therapists experienced with traumatic grief in children and adults. Reach out for a free phone consultation or to schedule your first appointment.

Hannah Lindsay, MSW, LCSW-C provides individual and family therapy in our Sterling, VA office. Contact Hannah at 703-951-6409 or hannah@lindseyhoskins.com to set up a first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation.