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LOSS OF PARENT IN CHILDHOOD

Loss of parents in childhood

A child’s crucial development into adolescence is influenced by his early experiences which later on serve as a basis for the development of interpersonal relationships. Loss of a parent in childhood threatens a child’s emotional and social development (Osterweis et al.,1984). These children therein become vulnerable to social impairment or psychopathology not only in the bereavement period but in adulthood as well (Siegel et al., 1992) Of all the emotions, grief is one of the strongest emotions. Though, it cannot be called a negative emotion, it invokes a sense of crisis and trauma in the individual. Grief and bereavement can be a manifestation in response to various stressful life events such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a pet, etc.

Situations such as these cause a strong sense of despair and devoid one of meaning in life. Although, the experience of loss of a loved one is always despair evoking, loss of one’s child can be a life-altering experience. For most children, the parent's death precipitates a severe crisis of meaning and initiates a search for meaning that involves both cognitive mastery and renewed purpose. Many children can’t get over this trauma and get stuck thus affecting their everyday life. Some children repressed the loss and remained in repression for a long time.


Attachment Theory in Grief and Trauma

Attachment theory also has applications in the understanding of grief and trauma associated with loss. Bowlby proposed four stages of grief. They are as follows:

1. Shock and Numbness – In this initial phase, the bereaved may feel that the loss is not real, or that it is simply impossible to accept. He or she may experience physical distress and will be unable to understand and communicate his or her emotions.

2. Yearning and Searching – In this phase, the bereaved is very aware of the void in his or her life, and may try to fill that void with something or someone else. He or she still identifies strongly and may be preoccupied with the deceased.

3. Despair and Disorganization – The bereaved now accepts that things have changed and cannot go back to the way they were before. He or she may also experience despair, hopelessness, and anger, as well as questioning and an intense focus on making sense of the situation. He or she might withdraw from others in this phase.

4. Re-organization and Recovery – In the final phase, the bereaved person’s faith in life may start to come back. He or she will start to rebuild and establish new goals, new patterns, and new habits in life. The bereaved will begin to trust again, and grief will recede to the back of his or her mind instead of staying front and center.
One’s attachment style also influences how grief is experienced. For example, someone who is secure may move through stages fairly quickly or skip some altogether, while someone who is anxious or avoidant may get stuck on yearning and searching or despair and disorganization. We all experience grief differently, but viewing these experiences through the lens of attachment theory can bring new perspective and insight into our unique grieving
processes and why some of us get “stuck” after a loss.

Attachment theory

Attachment is a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space (Ainsworth, 1973; Bowlby, 1969). Attachment need not to be reciprocated and shared always. it is manifested in different ways in a child’s behavior. The most common attachment behavior in children is seeking proximity when they are either scared or sad (Bowlby, 1969). This might not be the same in adults as they usually respond by appropriately responding to the child’s needs. Attachment theory helps in explaining how a child’s development is influenced by the early parent-child relationship. Bowlby was influenced by the evolutionary theory and proposed that even attachment can be understood in terms of an evolutionary context wherein the caregivers provide support and security to the children. Bowlby claimed that attachment is an intrinsic need in which the infant strives for an emotional bond with one’s caregiver which extends beyond the need to be fed.
 

Review of literature

It is stated that the loss of a parent during childhood is like a psychological insult to them. 83 school-aged children were randomly selected for the study who has lost their parents in the preceding 18 months. Regression was used to analyze the data. The analysis of the result showed various predictors of children’s psychosocial adjustment to parental death for e.g.: child’s age, child’s gender, deceased parents gender etc. boys reported a lower level of depressive symptoms as compared to girls and also the level of state anxiety was much higher in younger children as compared to their older counterparts. The other significant finding of the study was that the child’s perception of the openness in parental communication was directly correlated with lower levels of depressive symptoms and state anxiety in the bereaved children.

Loss of parent in childhood 

It is reported the mourning depressive responses following the death of the parental figure by attending to both qualitative and quantitative aspects of differential age responses in the age range of 5- 12 years. The researchers found that the initial response soon after the loss of a parent was of overt grief accompanied by preoccupations and fantasies about death. This phase subsided after 2-3 days followed by hyperactivity, overall regression to earlier patterns, and aggressive outbursts. No significant impairment was observed in the school performance of these children. Younger children along with the ones who were more severely emotionally disturbed used less adaptive and simpler coping mechanisms. Children who used excessive denial of the loss took more time to reconstitute. This article focused effectively on the patterns of grief and bereavement after the loss by specifying behaviors during that time.
 

Current trends

In the current research related to the topic, it was found that more emphasis was given to the later effects of the bereavement and how it makes the child vulnerable to psychopathology in adulthood. Very few effective measures were proposed to help the children cope with the loss effectively. Also, not much emphasis was paid to cater to the individual needs of the client and most of the research papers are quantitative in nature which lacks the subjective component of the experience of the loss. There is a lack of intervention based researches due to which counselors face a significant amount of difficulty while dealing with such clients. The methodologies used in the current research are not effective in attending to the covert expression of the grief and just focus on the outward expression of grief. Also in these types of researches, a significant amount of rapport is required to get in-depth
information that I found was not available in most of the research articles. The need of the hour is intervention based researches which specifically focuses on small groups of children with not many differences so that comprehensive counseling models can be made which can help the children cope effectively with the loss and prevent them from getting vulnerable to depression or other mental illnesses in the future.

Proposed model

It is a model that is mainly focused on coping with loss and does not explain the broad range of factors that are associated with bereavement. The structure of the DPM is mainly influenced by Cognitive Stress Theory, as it explains certain components related to coping. DPM includes two categories of stressors that are associated with bereavement like loss versus restoration oriented stressors. Loss-orientation refers to the bereaved person’s concentration on, appraising, and processing of some aspect of the loss experience itself which incorporates grief work. It involves a painful dwelling on, even searching for the lost person. Restoration-orientation refers to the focus on secondary stressors that are also consequences of bereavement, reflecting a struggle to reorient oneself in a changing world without the deceased person. Rethinking and replanning one’s life can also be regarded as an essential component of
grieving. This model is mainly problem-focused which focuses on the bereavement behavior of affected people. Although it includes emotion-focused aspects also but according to my opinion, this model can’t always be effective while dealing with children as it will push them back in the bereavement rather than taking them out of it. 

According to me in order to help children cope effectively with the loss of a parent more solution-focused talk should be included in the counseling model. The counselor should make them focus on their future and how they want it to be rather than repeatedly focusing on the loss and making them feel bad about it. The solutions should come from the child itself along with goals so that they are compliant to them rather than counsellor giving them goals to dwell on. Miracle questions can also be very effective in this scenario by giving them a positive outlook on their future. Children can also be made to write what are their best hopes for the future and what will be different if it happens. This will help shorten the grief period and make it easier to lead a normal life again. Before using solution-focused talk the child can be engaged in art therapy which leads to catharsis and letting out the trapping emotions. This will help the counselor understand their child better and his experiences about the loss because children can sometimes not know how to share their experiences. Scaling questions can be helpful in understanding whether the sessions are helping the child or not and if it’s not helping them then they can modify it according to their needs.

For some of the counseling sessions, even the parent of the child can be asked to participate in it so that they both understand each other’s needs and expectations and there is no conflict later on in their personal life after the sessions are closed. According to my understanding, this model is more effective and practical in bringing children out of their grief period so that they can lead a normal life again.


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