chapter  9
Play Therapy to Help Bereaved Children Nancy Boyd Webb
Pages 14

The literature on children's bereavement increasingly recognizes that children's bereavement differs from that of adults. Children's grief responses depend strongly on age and developmental level, which, in turn, affect their ability to comprehend irreversibility and other characteristics associated with death. Experts agree that a child's understanding of death develops gradually, and studies indicate that most children by the ages of seven to nine have achieved partial or complete mature understanding (Speece and Brent, 1996). For example, a preschooler who was told that her father had died and gone to heaven expected him to return "when he is finished being dead." Her nine-year-old brother, whose understanding was more mature, became irritated and angry with his little sister's repeated

140 / Nancy Boyd Webb

statements that "Daddy's coming back soon." Because the older child understood that dead people don't come back, he was pained by his sister's frequent references to their father's return, which only served to remind him of his loss. Both of these children benefited from individual play therapy sessions that permitted each of them to express their grief through the symbolic displacement of play. The boy drew pictures of volcanoes erupting, and the girl played with a doll house and female dolls, having them announce, "We can't find the daddy" (Webb, 2000).