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Change and Loss Within the Family

What types of family changes are there?

Growing up is an ongoing process of change that involves losses as well as gains. Depending on the support children receive, and how early changes and loss are dealt with, children can learn to manage and deal with the events that happen throughout their lives. Changes and loss within a family may be due to a variety of reasons, including:

  • The separation of parents or a family break-up
  • Parents re-marrying
  • A new child joining the family
  • Moving house or changing schools
  • Older children moving out of the family home
  • A death in the family
  • The loss of a pet
  • Being in hospital
  • Long periods of separation from a parent

Helping yourself

Family break-ups are a difficult time for everyone. However, even though the parents may be separated, this does not have to spell the end of the relationship between a parent and their child. Children need the ongoing love and support of both of their parents, and the best outcome for children is usually when both parents share the responsibility and decisions that affect the child. However, although most parents want to do their best, many do not handle this situation well, which may create more suffering for their children. It is important to keep in mind several things that will help children cope with the separation of their parents:

  • Your responsibility to your child doesn't stop when your family breaks up
  • Think first of your children's needs, then your own
  • Make the shift from being partners to parenting partners, even though this can be difficult
  • Listen and take account of your children's wishes but don't make them take responsibility for the final decisions on important things
  • Working together for your children's sake is one of the best gifts you can give your children after a separation
  • Keeping contact with grandparents and other relatives will help children feel secure
  • Arrangements about children will need to change from time to time as children grow and develop
  • The way you handle separation, especially the conflict, has an enormous impact

Regarding loss due to a death in the family, children do grieve and this can happen at an early age, but not in the same way that adults grieve. Children often have more needs at times of loss which can lead to demanding behaviour as they try to get closeness, care, information, reassurance and support from adults. The experience of loss affects each child differently. The child\'s age, emotional maturity, the circumstances of the loss, and the ?connectedness\' with the person or whatever the child has lost are all important factors. The following are some helpful tips for helping your child manage their grief following a death in the family:

  • Funerals provide a means of saying goodbye to a loved one, and it is helpful to include children. However, if children are frightened of attending a funeral they should not be forced. Instead help them have their own farewell such as lighting a candle or saying a prayer
  • Spend as much time as possible with the child and let them know they can show their feelings.
  • Children may express anger towards the surviving members of the family or may become fearful about their safety
  • Children grieve in bursts - they don't show their grief in the same way as adults
  • Keep to family routines as much as you can to give security
  • Let the teacher or childcare worker know what has happened
  • Don't rely on your child for support. You need to support your child
  • The biggest need for children and teenagers who have a loss is that they are supported and cared for and have someone to talk to about it

Getting professional help

If you, or someone that you know, is in need of additional assistance, the best person to speak to is your GP. They may refer you to a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.

The following services may also be of assistance: