Behavior Problems That May Arise in Children Dealing with Death of a Family Member

Death can deeply affect the deceased’s family members, particularly children and adolescents. The way that a child responds to grief can vary on a case-to-case basis, and most children will experience sadness, anxiety, and confusion over the death of a loved one. Grief can also present itself in the form of increased anxiety or behavioral problems in children.

Common behavior problems that may arise in children after the death of a family member include: 

  • increased aggression;
  • persistent feelings of anxiety; and
  • decreased coping skills.

A 2010 death and grieving fact sheet provided by the National Association of School Psychologists advises paying attention to several behaviors in the event of the death of a family member, including those outlined below.

Increased Aggression 

The death of a family member can cause immense feelings of anger within a child, which he or she may demonstrate in the form of aggression towards others.

Childhood aggression can present itself in a number of ways. It might consist of direct confrontations with other people that include hitting, kicking, or causing bodily harm. Others may be more passive in their aggressiveness.

While aggression is often in the form of violence, aggression can also be displayed in: 

  • tone of voice;
  • body language;or
  • general demeanor. 

Persistent Feelings of Anxiety 

Children who have experienced the death of a family member may be at risk for developing an anxiety disorder and/or post-traumatic stress disorder. A 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry looked at the lifetime prevalence of certain mental disorders.

Post-traumatic stress disorder was more common in females than it was in males. Age, however, is not a determining factor in the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety can include flashbacks of the traumatic event especially if it was the cause of death. It isn’t uncommon for children to have nightmares and avoid activities associated with the death.

Parents may be able to peremptorily recognize an anxiety disorder if they notice: 

  • sleeping problems;
  • excessive worrying;
  • irritability; and
  • trouble concentrating. 

Decreased Coping Skills 

Coping skills to deal with death and manage emotions are an important aspect of emotional and mental stability. When the death of a family member occurs, it is not uncommon for children to experience a decrease in coping skills. Some children may have trouble controlling their behavior, expressing sadness or anger, and may struggle to fit in socially. A lack of coping skills also affects a child’s ability to make decisions or the ability to handle criticism or disappointment. 

As a result, decreased coping skills can result in: 

  • severe bouts of depression;
  • lashing out; or
  • suicidal references or behavior. 

Helping a Child Deal with Death and Grief 

A parent should consider bringing in a specialist if his or her child: 

  • displays signs of aggression;
  • has lost interest in daily activities – routine activities or those that were once enjoyed;
  • is having difficulty sleeping;
  • displays marked differences in emotional state or avoids social situations for prolonged periods;
  • is afraid of being alone;
  • refuses to go to school (this can manifest as an ongoing sickness);
  • makes references to suicidal thoughts; or
  • displays suicidal behaviors such as self-cutting. 

When helping a child cope with grief, it is important to encourage an open discourse where the child can talk about the loss.

You can help a child cope with grief by: 

  • demonstrating patience and good listening skills;
  • presenting the child with facts about death that are appropriate for the child’s age;
  • providing routine and structure in the child’s life; and
  • acting as a model of healthy mourning. 

According to a 2004 article published in the Harvard Mental Health Letter, one of the best methods of helping a child cope with anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy, which offers rewards for success in facing fears or intimidating situations.

Furthermore, if your loved one’s death was a result of another’s actions or negligence, talk to a legal professional. Contact the wrongful death attorneys at Gacovino, Lake & Associates, P.C. to understand your rights and to help you file a claim to recover compensation. Call us today at 800-550-0000.

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