Interview with Jane Frances Nalubega-Kinobe, the Lead Counselor at Care360 Mentoring and Coaching.
Why is it important that we address grief in children?
Just like adults, children have special people in their lives! These could be
their parents, siblings or friends whom they can lose with lots of feelings. What many people may not know is that for children, also losing one of their loved ones can create a lot of unspoken pain and aftermath effects which if not addressed can turn into serious short and long term
counselling challenges. In order to address these issues, it is important to help the child know that much as the loss they have encountered is permanent, there is a need for them to learn how to overcome and
positively cope with the overwhelming situation.
Do all children grieve the same way?
In addressing the grievances of different children, it is important to know that children of different age groups will respond differently to their loss. This means that the kind of support given to each distinct child will differ.
Is it possible that COVID-19 is affecting children differently from what children in the non-COVID-19 era experienced? In this era of COVID-19 where so many adults and even children are dying, children are extremely affected both directly and indirectly. Some have lost parents, extended family members, family friends and many know someone who is sick. The loses have created permanent gaps which for a child is a concept that may either be very hard to grasp or extremely painful since children generally think only elderly people are supposed to die. The changes in the pattern of mortality that COVID-19 has brought has left children with fear due to
the uncertainties of what can happen next. As a counselor, I have come across children who have lost their loved ones. I have heard testimonies of children who have witnessed their loved ones dying. The trauma they have experienced has created in them fear that they too are about to die. This feeling prevents children from being carefree and may lead to nightmares, bedwetting, tantrums or being withdrawn.
How long should grief counseling for children last?
It is important for adults to know that a child who loses a loved one at a tender age will always need continuous support, and will need the trauma of loss addressed at each developmental stage they enter, otherwise, the trauma will affect their emotional development. For example, a child that loses a mother at the age of 10 years, can easily become a problematic
adolescent if the grievance process is not handled well. In many instances, we have even witnessed those who break down and cry uncontrollably at their graduation ceremonies and when asked why they act in such a manner they say; “I wish my mother was alive to see me achieve this.”
However, when grief counselling is done well by an experienced counsellor, it will help the child to not only pull through life but also help others when they become mature adults. In most situations, the main caregivers of grieving children are themselves grieving. The result is that children are forgotten and often not asked about their feelings or it is assumed that they do not understand. This is how trouble usually begins. The community should get involved in encouraging the family to focus on the children’s experience and if necessary, to engage a professional counselor.
How to tell that a child has unresolved grief. Some of the signs and symptoms
may include but not limited to:
1- Behavioural changes, for example, over fighting, sulking, withdrawing,
being irritable, and crying.
2- Increased fear of death.
3- Poor performance at school. Recently I talked to a child about his poor
performance in his online promotional tests. He said that he was no longer
motivated to study since his lawyer uncle had died! This child said he had wanted to become a great uncle and had hoped his lawyer uncle would take him through all the nitty gritty of succeeding.
4- Lack of interest in formerly loved activities.
5- Frequent physical complaints without medical causes, for example; headaches, stomachaches and other physical complaints.
How you can help as a primary care
In helping the child to cope, it’s important to allow this child to grieve as much as possible without judging him/her and allow the sharing of feelings about the loss without overwhelming the child with lots of information. One must encourage the child to share their sweetest memories with the deceased and help them to write down these feelings /memories.
Such sharing may include; celebration of their special days. In addition, it is very important to help them talk about all the emotions, which stem from grief and counsel them positively. Maintain routine and support by observing keenly the kind of games the child plays and the kind of pictures he paints. This will speak volumes and where possible, encourage the child to listen to music to feel secure and heal. In conclusion, helping a child to
navigate through the grieving process calls for patience, understanding and support. For this matter, I would encourage the community to identify good counselors, parents and caretakers who can help our children cope with grieving their loved ones to avoid mental and psychosocial effect on the future generation.
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