Currently we are living in a world full of profound, accelerating, and sometimes traumatic changes. These changes involve opportunity, tragedy, deliverance, danger, pain, joy, freedom and its loss. In today’s society children are always witnessing community violence and personal violence that impacts their lives forever. Community violence is so pervasive in our lower income urban areas at this time. According to Hill and Jones (1997) seventy five percent of African American children and adolescents have been exposed to community violence. And more than thirty three percent have been the victims of personal violence.
When a child witnesses a murder or sees a dead body his or her life is shattered by the experience. Their perception of the world being filled with safety, kindness, and meanings is now altered. Some began to believe that there life has no meaning, and that they are not safe. They have to deal with this traumatic tragedy on their own. When the murder victim is a parent who has been murdered in front of the adolescent, or found by the child the result is devastating. The terror that is experienced is hard for one to imagine. Research has found that children are severely affected by these events. They now have to deal with the trauma of what they witnessed as well as their own bereavement.
After experiencing this great trouncing the child may began to display symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can interfere with their grieving. According to LeShan (1988) the helplessness associated with witnessing the killing of their parent in particular can lead to numbing and emotional construction and attempts to avoid anything that reminds them of the event. The child may began to experience distressing nightmares about the murder and intrusive images and memories which leave the child stuck with the gruesome last images of their parents death and unable to recollect more pleasant memories. Another common reaction is that the child will attempt to avoid thinking about the trauma that interferes with the grieving process. In order to grieve for a dead loved one it is necessary to recollect it and remember it again and again.
Children mourn differently than adults, and an adolescent’s grief can be easily aborted and replaced by a variety of defensive mechanisms, which can postpone indefinitely the process of mourning. The kid may block out the death replacing it with something negative or positive. The way in which children grieve extends across developmental stages. Children younger than age seven usually perceive death as separation. They may feel abandoned and scared, and fear being alone or leaving people they love. Grieving young children may not want to sleep alone at night, or they may refuse to go to day care or school. Children under age seven usually are not able to verbally express their feelings; instead, they tend to act out their feelings through behaviors, such as refusing to obey adults, having temper tantrums, or role-playing their lives in pretend play. Children under the age of two may refuse to talk and be generally irritable. Children between the ages of two and five may develop problems with eating, sleeping, or bed-wetting and using the restroom. Children between the ages of seven and twelve often perceive death as a threat to their personal safety. They tend to fear that they will die as well and may try to protect themselves from death. While some grieving children want to stay close to someone they think can protect them, others withdraw. Some children try to be very brave or behave extremely well; others behave terribly. A grieving child may have problems concentrating on school work, following directions, and doing daily tasks. Children in this age group need the reassurance that they aren't somehow responsible for the death they are grieving. Teens perceive death much like adults do. However, they may express their feelings in dramatic or unexpected...
References: Hill, H.M., & Jones, L.P. (1997). Children’s and parents perceptions of children’s exposure to violence in urban neighborhoods. Journal of the National Medical Association, 89(4), 270-276.
LeShan, Eda. (1988). Learning to say good-bye: When a parent dies. New York: Avon.
Richters, J.E. & Matinez, P. (1993). The NIMH Community Violence Project: Victims of and witness to violence. Psychiatry, 56(1), 8 36-45.
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