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Needs of Grieving Children: A sense of control from Never the Same: Coming to Terms with the Death of a Parent

by Donna Schuurman

As adults, when a death occurs, we are swept into an unfamiliar world with new language and unclear rules. For children and teens, that world holds even more uncertainty and unknowns. Additionally, we all feel a kind of helplessness in the face of death. There was nothing we could do to prevent it, and we recognize our powerlessness. This helplessness and powerlessness in children can translate later into an overwhelming sense that one does not have control over one's own existence. While we generally don't have a say and control over the circumstances of our death (except in the case of suicide), as well as in many aspects of our lives, we still do have choice about how we will respond to what happens to us and in us. As we saw in chapter 2, parentally bereaved children tend to have a higher external locus of control, which can play itself out in adulthood as a victim stance, in searching for the "perfect other" who will make our life complete, and other non-productive behaviors. One of the best pieces of advice I can give to those parenting a grieving child or teen is to find and permit opportunities for them to regain that lost sense of control. Unfortunately, in an effort to regain control, parents often swing to one of two extremes – tightening the reins on their children out of fear or allowing full rein as a way of "compensating" for their loss.

When your parent died, did you feel like your life was out of control? What did your surviving parent do to help you regain a sense of control and stability? What did you do to try to regain your equilibrium? If you can't answer these questions, you may still be operating in life from a place of external control, being controlled not from within, but by those around you.

Donna Schuurman is the Executive Director of The Dougy Center, a children's grief support program in Portland, Oregon and the source of excellent resources on grief and loss. www.dougy.org

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