Children’s understanding of grief is different depending on their age. And how they react will also be dependent on their personalities, awareness, and perception. In addition, the grief journey will be impacted by how the person died, how their closest family members and friends are coping, and their stage in their childhood development.
For a child to navigate death and its grieving process, they need reassurance, support, and to be heard. Unfortunately, some children don’t show signs of grieving or don’t know how to process their grief. There are so many variables.
How To Recognise When Your Child Is Struggling With Grief
A child’s emotional reaction to grief may include fear, anger, guilt, anxiety, loneliness, sadness, and isolation. Their emotional reactions may be intense and suddenly disappear. They may fluctuate between their grief and back to normal life like a pendulum.
Their physical reactions may include low energy, unexplained aches and pains, interrupted sleep or eating patterns.
Children may regress in their behaviours with baby talk, thumb-sucking, or bed-wetting occurring out of the norm. They may also react with aggression, irritability, or act out. You may notice their concentration levels are poor, memory is suffering, and their schoolwork is negatively affected. They may also become clingier, needing extra reassurance from you.
As children navigate grief, they may struggle with a loss of self-esteem and confidence. As a result, you may find they withdraw from playing with friends or have anxiety going to school. In addition, how they play may change as a narrative of death or dying may come into their imaginative play or drawings.
How To Help A Child Cope With Grief
We cannot shield our children from the loss and grief they are experiencing. We may be processing our own grief and not know how to discuss death with our child. It’s perfectly understandable and normal to struggle with finding the right words. For children (and for us all), discussing a loss is a process with ongoing conversations.
Acknowledge The Loss
While a child may be scared to attend a funeral, there are many ways to help your child to acknowledge their loss. Writing letters, creating a scrapbook, framing photos, lighting candles, or finding a way to celebrate their lives can all help a child work through their grief.
As a child can fluctuate dramatically with their grief, we may feel they have come to a stage of acceptance only to find them dwelling or struggling again. Be patient with them, as everyone’s ability to process grief is different.
Read Books About Grief
Reading stories about loss, death, and grief can be beneficial for kids and encourage questions and conversations that can help them process their grief.