One of the most stressful events for a young child to experience is the death of a parent. This type of loss often triggers an intense grief reaction that must be properly worked through in order for the child to continue developing in a healthy way. It is important to understand that there are differences between adult and childhood grief and that each child reacts to grief in his or her own way. Also, parentally bereaved children may exhibit symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in addition to the typical grief reaction; PTSD must be treated before the child can work through the grieving process successfully. Group therapy, camp-based interventions, art therapy, family, and individual therapy are all treatment methods that have been proven successful when working with parentally bereaved children. It is imperative to be aware that not all parentally bereaved children need professional intervention and that exhibiting grief is a natural reaction to the death of a loved one; however, it is also important for parents and therapists to be aware of the warning signs that signal that a grieving child may need professional intervention and increased family support.
Amanda Sperandio is a marriage and family therapy graduate student at Fairfield University.