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Child Wants Pity

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my grandchild age 7 lost her mother almost two months ago. The other children have shown some of the "documented" signs of grief, and I understand everyone grieves differently, but I am concerned for her as she seems to be "begging" for pity much of the time. She has told me more than once that she loves all the spoiling she has been getting as a result of her mothers death. Two days ago, she went with me to the Post Office to mail a package to granddad for fathers day, and she blurted out to the clerk that she wished she could go shopping for grandpa with her mom, but her mom is dead! She seemed to be asking the clerk to feel sorry for her. Is this normal? I have found nothing like this behavior mentioned on any of the bereavement sites I have visited. I am unsure whether I should suggest counseling for her to my grieving son, or just accept it as another stage of the process.

What do you all think? Thanks for any advice you can give!!

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  • 1 month later...

While I would not consider your granddaughter’s behavior toward the Post Office clerk as abnormal, especially this soon after she lost her mother, her comment does appear to be a plea for attention on her part. I think you would be wise to look past her behavior at what she might be thinking and feeling at this point in her grieving process.

As I’m sure you know, children grieve just as deeply as adults, but they express it differently. Because their attention span is shorter, for example, they tend to move in and out of grief, and the symptoms of grief may come and go, varying in intensity. Their response is based on the knowledge and skills available to them at the time of their loss. Having had less experience with crisis and its consequences, your granddaughter’s repertoire of coping skills is simpler, and her capacity to confront the reality of her mother’s death is more limited and immature.

Your granddaughter may indeed be feeling a need for extra attention at what must be a sad and difficult time for everyone in your family. It may help to give her the extra time and attention she needs before she actively seeks it or demands it, so she’ll have less of a need to express it in inappropriate ways or at inappropriate times. Grieving children need their parents’ time and attention whenever their feelings of grief come up, and should be encouraged to talk about them. Because your granddaughter has only one parent now, who undoubtedly is consumed with his own grief at the loss of his wife, I would imagine that her opportunities to have her daddy’s undivided attention are limited.

As this child’s grandmother, you can play a very important role in being there for her, in helping her to share her thoughts and talk about her feelings. You can also model reminiscing and talking openly about how much you miss her mother. Feeling, showing and verbalizing your own pain gives your granddaughter an example to follow, while holding back implies that feelings are to be suppressed.

Reading together some of the wonderful books written just for children can be an especially effective way to get a child to open up and talk about her grief. See the Articles and Books page of my Grief Healing Web site for suggestions; scroll down the page until you come to the section labeled Books for Children and Those Who Love Them. Most of these titles can be found in the children’s section of the public library, or can be found or ordered from local or online bookstores.

I also want to refer you to an insightful article by a bereaved mother that appeared in the July / August 1998 issue of Bereavement Magazine, entitled "Can You Discipline A Grieving Child?"

Wishing you peace and healing,

Marty T

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