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Feelings of grief and loss can be triggered for children by changes such as the death of a loved one, the loss of an important person from their life, parental separation, and moving to a new school or home.
As a parent you will want to protect your child from distress but grief and loss is often a very natural reaction to something very sad that has happened in a child’s life. It doesn’t mean that the child is not coping. Rather it may mean that the child is just very naturally expressing their emotions.
How do children express grief or loss?
Depending on the age of the child, children may express their grief differently to adults. And as with all children, you may notice differences in the way that individual children respond.
Children sometimes do not understand what a loss means. Particularly for young children who experience the death of a loved one they may not comprehend the implications of death. This may mean they act as if nothing has happened. It’s important to plan how you will explain a death or change to your child in a way they will understand.
Some children will respond to feelings of grief or loss by acting angry, oppositional and defiant. This is usually because they do not know how to process their feelings, and feel out of control. This is particularly true for teenagers who may begin to push boundaries in response to feelings of grief and loss. It is important to respond to underlying feelings, be supportive and understanding, and find ways for children to express feelings in safe ways.
Children can sometimes feel despair in response to grief or loss; this may include sadness, crying, hopelessness, anxiousness, being clingy, and being fearful of separating from loved ones. It is important to provide lots of love and reassurance, and model that you can be sad but still live your life.
Some children may feel guilt, blame or responsibility for events surrounding grief or loss. Letting children talk about their worries openly will allow adults to challenge ideas, give more realistic explanations, and remove burden from children.
Tips for responding to children’s grief:
- Gradually children will accept the reality of loss, try to encourage them to also find some hope for the future.
- Let children be involved in rituals around loss such as choosing and decorating their new room, making photo collages of their memory of a loved one.
- Allow children to continue talking about loss and their feelings around that. Give permission for children to express whatever emotions they may have, even if they differ to your own.
- Consistency can help children adjust to changes; having familiar people, places, and things around them can provide a sense of security in a difficult time.
- Model the expression of your own emotions regarding the loss in healthy and appropriate ways.
Our psychology team at the Child Wellbeing Centre are also there to help you if you are still worried about how your child is coping.
Please call 9274 7062 for further information.