Raising Children in Families Affected by Loss. Joann O’Leary, PhD CEED, University of MN MNAEYC/MNSACA February 10, 2012. Children and Grief.
Raising Children in Families Affected by Loss
Joann O’Leary, PhD
CEED, University of MN
February 10, 2012
A child can live through anything, so long as he or she is told the truth and is allowed to share with loved ones the natural feelings people have when they are suffering. Eda LeShan
In 1916 Sophia Fahs, a Unitarian educator, editor, author and minister, with a special interest in the religious education of children, wrote an article for Parent Magazine titled, “What are our children’s thoughts about death?” She describes a scene in her home after her baby daughter Gertrude had died. Her other three children were all under four years of age.
“Before the funeral, a special service was held for the three other children in the family and for those of their child friends who cared to come. In a bassinet draped with white dotted Swiss over which were twined sweet peas, the baby’s body lay. Simply and kindly the pastor talked and prayed with the little group of hushed children, and together they sang a child’s song.”
Before the baby had come into the world, the sisters and brother had shared the joyous knowledge of her expected birth, and after she went, they shared also with their parents the trust that all was well with the child”(Hunter, pp 91-92).
Just under 2 million children age 18 and under living in the United States have experienced the death of a sibling.
26, 000 stillbirths in U.S. in a year
19,000 Newborn deaths
Close to half of these families have other children.
A long illness may mean the child is more prepared for the death, but also means that attention has been devoted to sick sibling for a period of time
An unexpected death can be especially frightening, leaves child feeling vulnerable, family in deep state of shock, disbelief
Degree to which a child was involved or excluded.
A child who has been involved in the process of the sibling’s illness and/or dying will have a better opportunity to grieve, express feelings, gain information
A child who is excluded from the process feels left out, does not understand what is happening, may feel less important in family
Giving voice to an experience liberates it from disenfranchisement
(Quote from Embracing Laura)
Children given the words for what happened fair better as it is not a secret in the family
They saw mommy’s tummy getting big and needed to know the baby didn’t just go away
Overprotective parenting style and poor parent/child affectional bonds can impact on children’s later mental health (Armstrong & Hutti 1998, Parker 1983, Shoebridge & Gowers 2000)
Bereaved parents in their subsequent pregnancy after the death of a baby often delay emotional attachment to their new baby for fear of another loss, (Cote-Arsenault & Marshall 2000, Robertson & Kavanaugh 1998; O’Leary & Thorwick, 2006)
Subsequent child called ‘replacement’ ‘vulnerable child,’ under influence of ‘Ghost’ or 'penumbra baby' , may be subject to increased risk of psychopathology including attachment disorders (Ainsfield & Richards 2000, Kempson, Conley & Murdock 2008, Powell 1995, Reid 2007, Sabbini 1988,)
When raising subsequent children, bereaved parents can be overprotective (Lamb 2002, Pantke & Slade 2006; Warland, et.al.2010; O’Leary & Warland, 2011)
Don’t know everything
Don’t know all the answers
Don’t need to know what to say
Won’t help everyone
Can be open
Can say no
Have both strengths and weaknesses
Believe the family will survive and YOU WILL make a difference