Factors affecting the intensity of a child’s grief

Wired at birth for connection

John Bowlby, a British psychologist and the first attachment theorist, believed that a child’s brain is wired at birth to create a bond or connection with their primary caregiver, usually the mother. He describes this connection or bond as the “blueprint” for how a child learns about relationships.

In an article  “What Is Attachment Theory? The Importance of Early Emotional Bonds”  written by Kendra Cherry, she discusses John Bowlby’s attachment theory. and describes the theme of this theory as follows:

“The central theme of attachment theory is that primary caregivers who are available and responsive to an infant’s needs allow the child to develop a sense of security. The infant knows that the caregiver is dependable, which creates a secure base for the child to then explore the world.”

This early secure attachment encourages trust, growth, development of positive self-esteem, the ability to build other relationships and the capacity to cope. However when children experience trauma such as a death of a primary caregiver their world can be turned upside down and influence how they feel about themselves and how they cope with the loss, which in turn can create insecure attachments.  If children are not supported adequately during loss, this insecure attachment can have an impact on the development of future relationships as they may be afraid to trust or love other people in fear that they too may die or disappear from their lives. This insecure attachment is one of the factors that can influence the child’s capacity to cope and affect the intensity of the child’s experience of grief.

The capacity to cope

As with adult grief there are factors that influence and affect a child’s adjustment to death and how they grieve. In the Khululeka Grief Support training material  KHU KIT – a resource for people working with bereaved children”  an acronym S.C.R.A.P.E. is used to describe the factors influencing the intensity of a child’s grief and capacity to cope with loss.

Click on the ‘>’ to uncover what each of these letters stands for.

To find out more about the Khululeka Grief Support and their available training material please click here.

Peter’s story – a case study

Read the following story  and identify the factors that may influence Peter’s intensity of his grief experience and his capacity to cope.