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Traumatic Grief in Childhood

Traumatic grief in childhood occurs when someone who has an important bond with the child dies and the child experiences severe emotional distress as a result. However, more than this, the child is so traumatized by what has occurred that it s/he is unable to go through the normal grieving process.

In such a case, the child may well suffer the classic symptoms of trauma disorder such as having disturbing and intrusive thoughts about how the person died (especially so if the death was caused suddenly and unexpectedly due to, for example, a violent incident), nightmares and night terrors relating to the death. Indeed, even ‘happy and pleasant’ memories of the individual who died can trigger distressing and upsetting thoughts/images in the child’s mind.


This is as follows:

1) An emotional reaction which may include anger and guilt, as well as profound sadness

2) Behavioural changes such as difficulty controlling anger, insomnia and loss of appetite (or excessive comfort eating)

3) Feelings of insecurity and an increase in feelings of dependency upon others

4) Cognitive disturbances (thinking difficulties) such as obsessively thinking about the deceased person and/or obsessive thinking about death and one’s own mortality

5) Changes in perception such as ‘sensing’ the deceased individual’s spirit is still somehow with one

Of course, the above merely represents a general outline of how people tend to react to the death of a person close to them, but there are significant individual differences in relation to these reactions.

Indeed, there is obviously no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to grieve, and different people will, of course, grieve for differing lengths of time.

Factors which are likely to affect how a particular child grieves will include the manner of the death (e.g,.was it violent, expected, unexpected etc), the chronological age of the child and his/her level of emotional development, the amount of emotional support provided for the child, particularly from immediate family and also from friends, school and wider society.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Posttraumatic Growth : An Existential Perspective

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