Losing a loved one is never easy, but it is particularly challenging for children as they have not yet developed the emotional maturity to fully understand what’s going on. While most children do not grieve the same way as adults, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t affected when they lose someone dear to them. In fact, grief can have significant and lasting effects on their wellbeing.
How Does Grief Affect Children?
Each child will experience grief differently, displaying emotions ranging from tearfulness and sadness to shock, confusion, anger, anxiety, and even depression. Their age can also influence their reaction to grief.
For example, young babies and toddlers can be affected by grieving parents or caregivers. When they notice that someone is in distress, they may try to comfort them by kissing or cuddling them or even offering them a special toy. They may also show changes in their behaviour such as becoming more tearful, clingy, or irritable.
Like babies and toddlers, preschool-age children can also react strongly to death and loss. They may exhibit signs of fearfulness, irritability, or even display aggressive behaviour. Some of them may also wet their beds and even experience sleep disturbances and nightmares.
While they have a greater knowledge and understanding of the world around them, older children can also be vulnerable to the effects of grief. Losing a loved one can cause them to display emotional, psychological, and physical reactions including sadness, anxiety, depression, and even aggression. Some might feel withdrawn and refuse to go to school or go out with friends.
Supporting Children Through Grief
The good news is that children can overcome their grief, especially with the support and assistance of caring adults. Therefore, if your child has recently suffered the loss of a friend, loved one, or even a beloved pet, it’s important that you show them your love and support in these trying times.
You can start by acknowledging their feelings. Let them know that you understand what they are going through and encourage them to talk to you and ask questions whenever they feel the need to. At the same time, you must also be willing to talk about your own feelings. Having someone to talk to and make them realise that they are not alone can help them make sense of their own feelings and eventually help them move on.
Also, ensure that your children are made aware of what actually happened. Explain the situation to them in a language they can easily understand. Knowing what really happened can help children make sense of things and help them cope with grief.
The loss of a loved one is usually accompanied by big changes. As such, apart from showing your kids that you’re always there for them, it also helps to maintain normal routines as it can help the children feel more secure in their environment.
Childhood Grief Support
If you need advice, seek the assistance of the National Centre for Childhood Grief (NCCG). The NCCG is a non-profit organisation that offers a safe place and loving support to children grieving a death. Founded by Mal and Di McKissock in 1994, the organisation provides grieving children with a place where they can share their experience and cope with their loss. It also offers education and training for individuals, schools and other organisations who are in contact with grieving children.