Children and Grief – A Guide for Carers

Do children grieve?

Children do grieve. Children mourn the loss of someone special in a similar manner as do adults. They feel the loss and pain of a separation very strongly, they just don’t express their pain in the same manner.

Often children are not as verbally skilled as adults, therefore they express their pain in the form of behaviour. Rather than expressing anger in a verbal way, there will often be changes in behaviour that we as adults label as ‘naughty’.

They may become very frustrated and have very intense mood swings. They can often yell and scream at people, sometimes other children at school or pre school and sometimes at home.

At times they withdraw from relationships. They may sometimes shut themselves away from others. From being friendly with other children they can become isolated and quiet.

Another very common reaction is that of clinginess. They cling to the important person in their life and often refuse to let that person out of their sight.

How You Can Help Children

There are a few important rules to remember. Firstly it’s very important children are given accurate and concise information about what has happened.

This should be given to the child in age appropriate language:

  • There is no need to over explain as this will only confuse the child and make them more anxious.
  • Do not try to fill in gaps with embellishment or distortions.
  • Tell the truth, as you know it to be. This will let the child know that you have told them the truth and will increase their capability to trust as time goes on.
  • Make sure you tell them that you will be there for them. At this time a child will require a great deal of reassurance. They will need to feel safe.
  • Don’t be afraid to let your child see you cry. Explain that you are feeling very sad. This lets children know that it’s OK to express emotions.

Should I allow the child to attend a viewing?

It is very important to give the child the choice as to whether they want to view their loved one.

Explain to them what the person will look like, explain in what position they will be, tell them about change in the body temperature. If you explain these facts to them, they are able to make an informed choice. In this way if the child is prepared, they may still be upset but they will probably cope much better.

Children often use their play to integrate new information. Do not be distressed if your child starts playing death or funeral games. This is his/her way of working out these new experiences.

Like adults children need love, understanding and opportunity to express their feelings in their own way in a safe and supportive environment.

Provide your child with paper and pens. Children, especially younger children, will often express their feelings through their artwork.

Some Common Grief Reactions

  • Children often fear that they somehow caused the death and feel guilty about this.
  • Children may worry that others, including themselves, may die.
  • Children can feel angry at the person who died and abandoned by them.
  • If a parent or other care giver has died, children may worry about who will take care of them now.

What you can do:

  • Be affectionate – tell and show your child that you love her/him and will take care of them.
  • Include them – tell them what is happening now. Your routines will be changed and this can cause anxiety for children.
  • Share your feelings and reactions with them.
  • Include them in decisions, for example, going to the funeral.
  • As much as possible, maintain their regular routines. This helps rebuild their sense of security.

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