Why Kids Understand Ambiguous Loss Intuitively

After a parent has a brain injury, kids are often confused and might say, "She looks like my Mom, but she doesn't act like it." "He seems half dead, and half alive." "If he's changed, do I need to change to still be close to him?"

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Children are only too aware of, if you like, the notion of ambiguous loss without actually knowing really that term. And I think children repeatedly, in their stories and their accounts of what's happened, will describe ambiguous loss perfectly. They talk about, "He looks the same, but he doesn't act the same," or "She looks like my mom, but I'm not sure she is, because she doesn't act like my mom used to act." And I think the children--it's like just a sense that they have that this person seems to be gone, but not quite gone, and that's really scary for children. It's really scary for the adults, but for children, they depend so much on their identification figures. And very small children--they look at us as role models, as attachment figures, and what one boy who was about 8 or 9 said, "If he's changed, have I changed?" "Because I used to be really like him and now I'm not like him, so what does that mean?" "Do I have to change to be like him so we can still be family?" That was really confusing for him. He didn't know almost who he was now in relation to this changed person. And children will often say--they use the image of, "It seems like he's half-dead and half-alive."
Posted on BrainLine December 18, 2012.

Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough, Justin Rhodes, and Erica Queen, BrainLine.