Term Paper: Children, Grief, and Attachment Theory

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Children, Grief, And Attachment Theory

When a child, age 7 to 11, experiences the death of a nuclear or extended family member, the experi-ence generates subsequent grief reaction/s. During the mixed methods study, the researcher investigates ways attachment theory may positively compliment grief reaction/s and concerns challenging the grieving child that may include feelings which include, but not limited to anger, confusion, fear, and self-blame. When not addressed, these reactions may link to the child experiencing ensuing health and/or mental health problems in his/her later life. The study also relates a number of ways to help to confront bereavement issues that children experience.

Relating to Death

Addressing "Something Else"

Statement of the Problem

Purpose of Study

Significance of Study

Scope of Study

Rationale of Study

Overview of Study

Limitations

Key Word Definitions

Conclusion

Review of Related Literature

Chapter III: Methodology

Description of the Study Approach

Chapter IV: Analysis

Chapter V: Discussion, Conclusion, and Recommendations

KEY WORD DEFINITIONS

Adolescent: For the purpose of the dissertation, the term, adolescent, refers to a teen or juvenile before the beginning of puberty and maturity, typically beginning at the age of 13 and ending at the age of 19 (Princeton University, 2010).

Attachment: Attachment depicts a sense or feeling of affection or fondness for an individual or a place (Princeton University, 2010).

Bereaved and Bereavement: The phrases, bereaved and bereavement, reflect a phase or frame of mind of sorrow over the loss or death of a loved one (Princeton University, 2010).

Bereavement Behavior: Bereavement behavior/s may include, anger, agitation, guilt, loneliness, numbness and shock, after the loss of a loved one (Twain, 2009).

Child: For the purposes of the dissertation, the term, child, refers to a young person of either sex, between the ages of seven to 11 (Princeton University, 2010).

Grief: Grief may be defined as passionate, all consuming, sorrow caused by the loss of a loved one (Princeton University, 2010).

Irreversibility: Irreversibility depicts the condition of being permanently gone or not reversible, without the possibility of being changed (Princeton University, 2010).

Nonfunctionality: Nonfunctionality consists of irreversible changes within an individual; the process of each cell and tissue ceasing to function; causing death (Laureys, Schiff & Owens, 2009).

Unresolved Grief: Unresolved grief depicts unsettled, deep sorrow over an extended period of time; typically brought on by the non-acceptance or non-closure over the loss of a loved one. Related personal pain of the grief may be buried deep within an individual and not allow him/her to experience real grief and experience closure (Hunt, 2009).

CHAPTER I

INTRODUCTION

"Whilst especially evident during early childhood, attachment behaviour is held to characterize human beings

from the cradle to the grave"

- John Bowlby (1979, p. 129).

Relating to Death

In contemporary America as well as in numerous other societies, some people may deliberately avoid verbalizing words like dead, death, and dying. Instead of using direct language, some individuals may use euphemisms, like "passed away" or "departed." In the book, Death and Dying, Life and Living, Charles A. Corr, prominent teacher and writer in the field of death, dying and bereavement, Clyde M. Nabe, Episcopal priest and instructor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and Donna M. Corr (2008), retired nursing professor from St. Louis Community College in St. Louis, Missouri, explain that using an euphemism to try to "prettify' language about death to make it appear more delicate, 'nice,' or socially acceptable and to avoid seeming disagreeable, impolite, or nasty" (p. 84) does not change the fundamental truth about death.

By the age of ten, two-thirds of children have experienced the death of a friend, grandparent, parent or sibling. In the journal article, "Expert shares tips on supporting children's grief: Ask the families of patients to keep you informed about all important events that affect their children," Doug Brunk (2007), San Diego Bureau reports that "5% of children experience the death of a parent by the time they turn 16" (¶ 1). Although mental health professionals throughout the world routinely utilize a myriad of studies to help family members and adolescents understand and deal with grief during the death of a close relative or friend, determining the best psychometric tools, psychological tests, and interventions in addressing adolescent grief and/or adolescent depression proves challenging. According to Nancy Boyd Webb, consulting editor for the Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma, and Kenneth J. Doka. (2010), co-author, in the book, Helping Bereaved Children…, A Handbook for Practitioner, many children realize the truth about death even when adults may try to shield them; that it is "irreversible, inevitable, and universal" (p. 4). For the child or adolescent experiencing grief, however, the lack of opportunities to communicate thoughts and feelings with others about death-related concerns does not have to be universal, inevitable, and irreversible.

The path for healing from grief for a child or adolescent may be reconciled with emotional and intellectual maturity. Children and adolescents grieve in different ways, particularly at different ages, Donna M. Burns (2010) explains in the book, When kids are grieving: Addressing grief and loss in school. Table 1 depicts the different age groups and how a child or teen may address or perceive grief during this period in his/her life.

Table 1: Children and Teens during Grieving Process (adapted from Burns, 2010).

Preschoolers

During their preschool years, children may not view death as a formal event and may even consider that death can be changeable or reversible. A preschooler may think of death as only a short separation, not a lasting condition. Preschoolers may also link specific events and "magical" thinking as contributing to the cause of death. One example may be the tragedy of the World Trade Center. Preschool-aged children may think if one enters into a tall building, he/she may die.

Early Elementary School Age

Children five to nine years old begin to understand that death is final. They may also comprehend that specific circumstances may cause one to die. Again, relating to the World Trade Center, children early elementary school age children understand that when a plane crashes into a building the people in the building as well as those in the plane will die. Early elementary school age children, however, may not be able to differentiate between what they see on TV or in a movie and what they see at home. They also see death as something that happens to other people; not to anyone in their own family.

Middle School

Children in the middle school age range possess the intellectual ability to understand death is final; that the dead person's bodily functions cease. Some middle school age children, nevertheless, may not completely grasp the conceptions adults discuss. At middle school age, youth may also "act out" and experience a barrage of various emotions; at times feeling especially angry, depressed and revengeful.

High School

Teens in the high school age completely understand the meaning of death as well as circumstances surrounding it; whether the loss involved a car accident or illness. Some bereaved teens may seek friends or family members to help console and comfort them during the grieving process. Others may completely withdraw from peers, friends and/or family. Adolescents experiencing other issues, like chemical dependency, depression, or suicidal thoughts are at higher risks for prolonged grief. During the grief process, they may need constant attention.

Addressing "Something Else"

"My father got shot by an officer. He died four days before my birthday," Heather, age 11, recounted during a group session held at The Dougy Center, a "safe place" where she and children like her share thoughts relating to the death of a nuclear or extended family member.

To help keep memories alive, at times, the children bring in and share something the deceased person loved. Rachel brought in a doll her mother played with when a girl. During the 20/20 episode, "The Dougy Center, Saying Goodbye Forever," when John Stossel (2010) interviewed Rachel about her mother's doll, Rachel said: "This doll belonged to my mom. She had it when she was a child." In another poignant scene, a girl hugs her late sister's dog.

When a child or an adult experiences the death of a nuclear or extended family member, in time, the acute state of mourning following the death subsides. John Bowlby (1979), a British psychiatrist who lived from 1907 to 1990, considered the father of attachment theory, stressed in the book, The making & breaking of affectional bonds, that the individual "shall remain inconsolable and will never find a substitute. No matter what may fill the gap, even if it be filled completely, it nevertheless remains something else" (p. 88). Addressing that "something else," albeit, reflects a contemporary challenge, counselors regularly counter when working with children experiencing grief. During the dissertation, the researcher addresses a number of concerns challenging children, ages 7 to 11, like Heather and Rachel, who often need help with a number of things, following the death of a nuclear or extended family member. The researcher also considers ways attachment theory may serve as a positive, practical… [END OF PREVIEW]

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