Theories on Children & Grief

Written by michael e carpenter
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Theories on Children & Grief
A grieving child may feel isolated and alone in his loss. (Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images)

The way children grieve may differ from the grieving process of the adult. The grieving of the child will mostly depend on the child's age and capacity to understand the meaning of the loss. Some children may feel many of the same emotions as the adult. Grief theories try to explain what grief is and how the individual progresses through grief work.

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Psychodynamic School of Thought

Sigmund Freud argued that people become emotionally attached to others who satisfy their personal needs. This attachment is called libidinal energy. This libidinal energy is still attached to the person when they die. Therefore, the goal is to release this libidinal energy through grief work so that it can become attached to other, living people, who can satisfy personal needs. In Freud's view, the grieving person is isolated and must work through internal processes to detach themselves from the deceased. For a child, this would require getting them to understand her attachment to the loved one and discussing her feelings to "let them go" so that she can develop feelings for other people.

Attachment Theory

John Bowlby theorised that attachments are very important to personal and species survival. Attachments are formed from our birth and adapt as time passes. At death, the loss of this attachment is the root cause of grief. Bowlby was the first to describe grief as a process. His attachment theory contained four stages: shock and numbness, searching and yearning, disorganisation and reorganisation. For children, attachment theory would look for the child to move through the grief stages successfully.

Social Constructionist/Social Learning Theory of Mourning

Social constructionist theory states that the grieving process depends much on the individual's environment as it does on the internal loss the person feels. For example, it is the culture that determines the rituals and mores that will form part of the loss experience. While grief is common among all cultures and societies, the process of grieving differs across cultures. The goal of theory is to recognise these differences to help the grieving work through his personal grieving process.

Cognitive/Behavioral Theory

Cognitive theories of grieving focus on the active thought processes behind grieving. In this theory, it is the grieving person that must realise they are in control of the grieving process. Cognitive and behavioural theorists looks for maladaptive coping mechanisms and try to use techniques to alter these coping strategies. The cognitive model is powerful for self understanding for the grieving person. They are able to recognise their own thought patterns and are better able to work through the process more quickly.

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