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Children who aren't given tools to deal with grief can face long term problems

Child
ikon
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A young child

Thursday, November 18, is National Children’s Grief Awareness Day, part of National Children's Grief Awareness Month. And, this year, even more kids are dealing with the loss of a loved one due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed the lives of more than 700,000 Americans.

A place in Springfield, Missouri offers help for those who are grieving, including children. The nonprofit Lost and Found Grief Center is a place where children and adults experiencing loss can be part of free support groups and can access individual counseling for a fee. Support groups not only have the benefit of people who are willing to listen, but they can remove people from isolation while grieving.

Dr. Karen Scott, the center’s cofounder and program director, said those services are especially important for children.

"Children tend to be egocentric and so they think 'a bad thing happened because maybe I was bad,'" she said. "They think they're the only one because often there isn't anyone in their class or their school who's lost a loved one, so, again, that isolation and sometimes just embarrassment. They feel like, 'our family's weird and different now,' and they don't know how to talk about that."

But kids who go to Lost and Found Grief Center find others going through similar experiences, she said, which helps to normalize the grieving process.

It’s estimated that one in 12 children in Missouri will experience the death of a parent or sibling by age 18, according to Lost and Found. And Scott said the consequences of unresolved grief for children can be extremely detrimental.

Children with unresolved grief are five times more likely to commit suicide and nine times more likely to drop out of high school, she said, and they are at greater risk for imprisonment.

Unresolved grief can lead to mental health problems, depression, poor performance in school and physical complaints such as headache, stomachache and sleep problems, said Scott.

She wants people to understand that it is extremely important for grieving children to be acknowledged and supported and not just for a short period of time.

"Children grieve over and over as they develop cognitively," she said. "So, for a six-year-old, there's a pretty limited understanding of 'my dad died.' By age 10, there's a whole new understanding of that loss."

Getting help to cope with grief can also keep families together, according to Scott, since family members sometimes don't know how to deal with their loss.

"We try to save families by helping them learn how to communicate with each other."

Find out more about Lost & Found Grief Center or make a donation to help provide the services it offers at lostandfoundozarks.com.