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Understanding Grief in Children & Teens

Teens grieve with family

When Beth was 13, her father died of pancreatic cancer.  Shortly afterward, she began to feel overwhelmed with many things such as difficulty concentrating on her school assignments, general fatigue, increased irritability and arguing with her two younger siblings and her mother.  Zach was eight when his mother died suddenly from a drug overdose.  He struggled to understand “why she had to die” as he strove to adjust to the many changes of living with his grandparents.

Children and teens often feel alone with their grief.  Many feel sorrow, sadness, anger, confusion and longing for their loved one while at the same time struggling to make necessary adjustments caused by the loss.  Sensitivity about being viewed as “different” can prevent them from feeling comfortable in expressing feelings to their friends.  Sometimes children and teens are hesitant to show their feelings to other family members because they do not want to “upset them or make them cry.” Individual grief counseling provides a safe environment where they can express their thoughts and feelings about the loss.

At the Pathways of Hope Grief Center, individual grief counseling sessions are available to children and teens and can include art therapy activities that are related to grief.  These art activities provide a fun and creative way to express thoughts and feelings about death and how they are coping.  Art can also be a creative way to make objects that help maintain cherished memories as well as honor the life of their loved one.

One of the powerful qualities of art making is that it does not rely on words to communicate difficult feelings and experiences.  This quality makes it especially healing for children and teens, many of which may not have the vocabulary to express their feelings and experiences in words or are often uncomfortable talking about their grief.  One does not need to be artistically gifted to benefit.  These art activities also provide their parent(s) or guardian an object that is like a “window to the soul,” allowing them to better understand and support their child.

If you think your child or teen would benefit from art therapy and individual grief counseling, or attending our mutigenerational art therapy group Art Forever After, please call the Pathways of Hope Grief Center at Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton at 937-258-4991.

Article written by Jonathan Haag, Art Therapist at Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton.

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