When Children Experience Depression After Death of a Parent

Helping Grieving Children and Teenagers

When Children Experience Depression After Death of a Parent

Children and teenagers express their grief in a variety of ways. Some may be sad and verbalize the loss many adults. Depending on their ages, however, they may show sadness only sometimes and for short periods. Children may complain of physical discomfort, such as stomachaches or headaches. Or they may express anxiety or distress about other challenges, such as school or sports.

Loss is more intense when the child had a close relationship with the person who died, such as a parent or sibling. However, this is not always obvious from a child’s reactions. A child’s grief may seem to come and go. And a child may rarely verbally express his or her grief. This is normal.

Your child may also re-experience the intensity of the loss as he or she grows up. This may occur more often during certain milestones in life, such as starting school or going on a first date.

Even into adulthood, important events such as graduating from college or getting married may trigger renewed grief.

Understanding how children and teens view death

It is helpful to know how children understand death at different stages of development. It varies by age and often changes as a child develops emotionally and socially. Other factors also influence children’s reactions.

These can include personality, previous experiences with death, and support from family members. Keep in mind that children do not move abruptly from 1 stage of development to the next. And features from each stage may overlap.

Infants (birth to 2 years)

  • Have no understanding of death.
  • Are aware of separation and will grieve the absence of a parent or caregiver.
  • May react to the absence of a parent or caregiver with increased crying, decreased responsiveness, and changes in eating or sleeping.
  • May keep looking or asking for a missing parent or caregiver and wait for him or her to return.
  • Are most affected by the sadness of surviving parent(s) and caregivers.

Preschool-age children (3 to 6 years)

  • Are curious about death and believe it is temporary or reversible.
  • May see death as something sleeping. In other words, the person is dead but only in a limited way and may continue to breathe or eat after death.
  • Often feel guilty and believe that they are responsible for the death of a loved one, perhaps because they were «bad» or wished the person would «go away.»
  • May think that they can make the person who died come back if they are good enough.
  • May worry about who will take care of them and about being left behind.
  • Are very affected by the sadness of surviving family members.
  • Cannot put their feelings into words and instead react to loss through behaviors such as irritability, aggression, physical symptoms, difficulty sleeping, or regression (such as bed-wetting or thumb-sucking).

School-age children (6 to 12 years)

  • Understand that death is final.
  • May think of death as a person or a spirit, a ghost, angel, or a skeleton.
  • By age 10, understand that death happens to everyone and cannot be avoided.
  • Are often interested in the specific details of death and what happens to the body after death.
  • May experience a range of emotions including guilt, anger, shame, anxiety, sadness, and worry about their own death.
  • Struggle to talk about their feelings. Their feelings may come out through behaviors such as school avoidance, poor performance in school, aggression, physical symptoms, withdrawal from friends, and regression.
  • May worry about who will take care of them, and will ly experience feelings of insecurity, clinginess, and abandonment.
  • May worry that they are to blame for the death.

Teenagers (13 to 18 years)

  • Have an adult understanding of the concept of death but do not have the experiences, coping skills, or behavior of an adult.
  • May act out in anger at family members or show impulsive or reckless behaviors, such as substance use, fighting in school, and sexual promiscuity.
  • May experience a wide range of emotions but not know how to handle them or not feel comfortable talking about them.
  • May question their faith or their understanding of the world.
  • May not be receptive to support from adult family members because of their need to be independent and separate from parents.
  • May cope by spending more time with friends or by withdrawing from the family to be alone.

Helping your child cope with loss

Explain death in simple, direct, honest terms geared to your child's developmental level. Children cannot reflect on their thoughts and emotions adults. So they will need to have many short conversations. Adults may need to repeat the same information many times. Children may ask the same questions often as they try to make sense of difficult information.

Here are some tips to help explain death and loss to your child:

  • Explain death using real words such as «died» rather than confusing phrases such as «gone to sleep.» You can say that death means the person's body has stopped working or that the person can no longer breathe, talk, move, eat, or any of the things he or she could do when alive.
  • Share your family's religious or spiritual beliefs about death.
  • Encourage your child to ask questions, and try to answer them honestly and directly. If you do not know the answer to a question, help find the answer.
  • Use books, drawings, or role-play games to help a younger child understand death.

Here are suggestions that may help your child cope with a loss:

  • Make sure your child understands that he or she is not to blame for the death and that the person who died is not coming back.
  • Provide lots of affection and reassure your child often that he or she will continue to be loved and cared for.
  • Encourage your child to talk about his or her emotions. Suggest other ways to express feelings, such as writing in a journal or drawing a picture.
  • Without overwhelming your child, share your grief with him or her. Expressing your emotions can encourage your son or daughter to share his or her own emotions.
  • Help your child understand that normal grief involves a range of emotions, including anger, guilt, and frustration. Explain that his or her emotions and reactions may be very different from those of adults.
  • Reassure your child that it is normal for the pain of grief to come and go over time. Explain that they cannot always predict when they will feel sad.
  • If your child is older, encourage him or her to talk with an adult outside the family, such as a teacher or a clergy member. You can also consider an age-specific support group.
  • Keep routines and caregivers as consistent as possible, and continue setting limits on behavior. Care, consistency, and continuity help children feel safe.
  • Encourage spending time with friends and engaging in other age-appropriate activities.
  • Reassure your child that it is never disloyal to the person who died to feel happy and to have fun.
  • Speak with a grief counselor, child psychologist, or other mental health professional if you are concerned about your child's behavior.

Addressing daily routine and role changes

The death of a parent or other close family member can directly affect a child's day-to-day life.

Family routines and roles change, such as a surviving parent having to return to work and spend less time at home. These changes are an added disruption and may add to a child’s distress.

Even young children will benefit from extra preparation, conversations, and support around these transitions.

Although the death of a family member with cancer is painful, it may also lessen some of a child’s stress. For example, the death of a sibling might mean that a parent is not dividing time between a sick child at the hospital and another child at home.

It is normal to have strong, mixed feelings, including some relief, when a family member’s suffering is over after a long or difficult illness. Help your child realize that these feelings are normal and that he or she should not feel guilty for having them.

Honoring and remembering the person who died

Children as young as age 3 understand the concept of saying goodbye. They should be allowed to choose how they say goodbye to a loved one.

  • Give preschool-age and older children the choice of attending memorial services. But do not force them to attend if they do not want to.
  • Some children may want to attend a memorial service but not a viewing or burial.
  • Allow older children and teenagers to help plan memorials if they want.
  • Talk with children about what will happen at a service ahead of time. Consider visiting the church or cemetery.
  • Ask a trusted adult to help take care of young children at a service or to go home with a child who decides he or she wants to leave early.

Help your child understand that the person who died lives on in his or her memory. Parents who are terminally ill sometimes leave letters, videos, or photographs to help children remember how much they were loved. Children can also compile pictures and other special items to create their own memory.

For younger children, most of their knowledge of the person who died will come from memories of other family members. Talk about the person often, and remind children of how much the deceased person loved them.

Over time, children can understand that they would not be who they are without the influence of the special person who died.

More Information

Источник: https://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/managing-emotions/grief-and-loss/helping-grieving-children-and-teenagers

Childhood Depression: What Parents Need to Know

When Children Experience Depression After Death of a Parent

It's normal for kids to feel sad, act grouchy, or be in a bad mood at times. But when a sad or bad mood lasts for weeks or longer, and when there are other changes in a child's behavior, it might be depression.

Therapy can help children who are going through sadness or depression. And there are things parents can do, too. Getting the right care can prevent things from getting worse and help a child feel better.

If sadness has lasted for weeks or longer, talk about it with your child's doctor.

If a child is depressed, parents may notice some of these signs:

  • Sad or bad mood. A child may seem sad, lonely, unhappy, or grouchy. It can last weeks or months. A child may cry more easily. They may have more tantrums than before.
  • Being self-critical. Kids going through depression may complain a lot. They may say self-critical things , «I can't do anything right.» «I don't have any friends.» «I can't do this.» «It's too hard for me.»
  • Lack of energy and effort. Depression can drain a child's energy. They might put less effort into school than before. Even doing little tasks can feel too much effort. Kids may seem tired, give up easily, or not try.
  • Not enjoying things. Kids don't have as much fun with friends or enjoy playing before. They may not feel doing things they used to enjoy.
  • Sleep and eating changes. Kids may not sleep well or seem tired even if they get enough sleep. Some may not feel eating. Others may overeat.
  • Aches and pains. Some children may have stomach aches or other pains. Some miss school days because of not feeling well, even though they aren't sick.

What Causes Child Depression?

Different things can lead to depression. There is no single cause. Some children have genes that make them more sensitive to depression. They may have other family members who have been depressed.

Some children go through stressful things. Some have faced loss, trauma, or hardships. Some go through serious health conditions. These things can lead to sadness or grief — and sometimes to depression.

Having extra support during and after hard times helps protect children from depression or lessen the effects. But even when they have good support, some children get depressed. Therapy can help them heal, feel better, and get back to enjoying things.

What Is the Therapy for Child Depression?

The therapy for child depression is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Therapists help kids feel welcome and supported. They have kids talk about what they think and feel. They may use stories, play, lessons, or workbooks. These tools can help children feel at ease and get the most from CBT. When possible, a child's therapy includes their parent.

If a child has gone through a loss, trauma, or other difficult events, the therapy will include things that help a child heal from that, too. And if a parent is dealing with their own loss or depression, the child's therapist can help them get the care and support they need.

What Should I Do if I Think My Child Is Depressed?

If you think your child is depressed:

Talk with your child about sadness and depression. Kids might not know why they are so sad and why things seem so hard. Let them know you see that they're going through a hard time and that you're there to help. Listen, comfort, offer your support, and show love.

Set up a visit with your child's doctor. Let your child's doctor know if sad or bad moods seem to go on for a few weeks.

By itself, this doesn't always mean a child is depressed. Tell your child's doctor if you have also noticed changes in your child's sleep, eating, energy, or effort.

Tell them if your child is dealing with a loss, a big stress, or hardship.

The doctor will do a physical exam. A full exam lets the doctor check for health issues that could cause your child's symptoms. They can also check for depression. Your child's doctor may refer you to a child therapist. The doctor's office might have a child therapist on staff.

Set up a visit with a child therapist. A child therapist (mental health doctor) will spend time talking with you and your child. They will do an in-depth check for depression by asking questions and listening. The therapist can explain how therapy can help your child.

Take your child to therapy visits. The therapist may suggest a few visits, or more. Therapy can take time, but you will see progress along the way.

Be patient and kind. When your child acts moody or difficult, try to stay patient. Talk with your child's therapist about the best ways to respond when your child acts this way.

Often, it helps to connect with your child in a calm way, then guide them to better behavior. Instead of feeling bad, this lets kids feel proud of doing better.

It lets them see that you're proud of them, too.

Enjoy time together. Spend time with your child doing things you both can enjoy. Go for a walk, play a game, cook, read stories, make a craft, watch a funny movie. Spend time outdoors if you can. These things gently encourage positive moods. They help you and your child feel close.

Источник: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/understanding-depression.html

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