National Grief Awareness Week is coming up from December 2-8, and as this important week approaches, we need a reminder that adults are not the only ones who experience grief. Children are affected by grief too, though they show it in different ways.
Grief is something we all have to navigate in our lives. Even as adults, we have trouble processing it. For children, it is even more difficult to understand and cope with grief. As caretakers, it is our responsibility to help children process their grief in a healthy way.
Helping children cope with their grief first requires us to understand it. We have to know how grief progresses in children and how to spot the signs of grief so that children don’t have to go through their loss alone. Here’s how you can identify signs and stages of grief in the children you care for so you can help them through it.
What can cause grief in children?
When we think about grief, the most obvious source is usually the loss of a family member or friend. Even very young children, who do not necessarily understand the concept of death yet and might view the loss of someone as temporary, grieve when someone they love is no longer a part of their lives. However, this is just one source of grief in children.
Children might experience traumatic grief after a national crisis that affects their lives, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Grief can also occur after a large change in a child’s life, even if it seems like the change is positive. For instance, moving to a new home is usually an exciting moment for adults, but can cause grief in children due to the loss of their previous home and normal routines.
What are the stages of grief?
Defining stages of grief in children is difficult because they are still developing their understanding of the world and relationships. Grief stages for children are not linear and can be different for each child.
Changes in a child’s behaviour are usually the best indicators of how a child is feeling about their loss. There are no tidy stages that can guide you in how best to support each child. It’s also important to remember that once a child has moved on from one stage of grief, they might return to it later on.
Signs of grief in children
Young children typically do not have the coping skills needed to process their grief in a healthy way. Therefore, the signs of grief in children can look quite different from those seen in adults. Be on alert for the following signs:
- Clinging to parents and caregivers
- Showing signs of fear
- Throwing tantrums
- Irritability or anger
- Behavioural regression (behaving like a younger child)
- Trouble sleeping
- Acting out
- Talking about death and loss during play
If you start to notice these signs in a child under your care, they will likely need extra support and understanding.
How you can help a grieving child
Helping a grieving child is very important for their well-being. It’s also important to remember that grief doesn’t necessarily go away. A child who seems to get over their grief quickly might have it resurface later, such as during their teenage years.
When children grieve, they need clarity and support from the adults around them. Young children are still learning about the world and they will not understand the kinds of euphemisms adults use to describe losses. Being honest and talking about the loss using terms the child will understand is important.
You can also help a grieving child by providing validation, healthy outlets like art projects, and other forms of support and encouragement. Patience is key.
Remember: each child will grieve in their own way. It’s important to be patient, caring, and supportive. Try to understand a child’s individual need for support so you can help them through the difficult process of grief. Some children can benefit from seeing a grief counsellor or another specialised mental health professional if their need for support is high.
National grief awareness week: normalising grief
The goal of National Grief Awareness Week is to normalise talking about grief. In the UK, there is a persistent taboo surrounding the topic, which makes it very difficult for people who need help to seek it out. It also makes it difficult for people who want to help, because they don’t know how they can reach out in a way that helps someone who is grieving.
It’s tempting to shelter children as much as we can from the difficult parts of life. When they are grieving, however, they need help from adults who will help them work through their emotions and provide comfort and support. Shielding them from reality will not help their well-being and ability to process their emotions.
The next time you work with a child experiencing grief, help them understand that talking about their feelings is good. Let’s help the next generation normalise talking about grief so that in the future, no one has to work through their loss without support.
About the author:
With a Bachelor’s in Health Science along with an MBA, Sarah Daren has a wealth of knowledge within both the health and business sectors. Her expertise in scaling and identifying ways tech can improve the lives of others has led Sarah to be a consultant for a number of startup businesses, most prominently in the wellness industry, wearable technology and health education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life with a focus on making America a healthier and safer place for future generations to come.
Bradley University - original source of the piece: https://onlinedegrees.bradley.edu/blog/traumatic-grief/