Children and Grief
Grief is a human reaction to loss. Grief can be experienced as the result of the loss of a job, a home, a marriage, a pet, a lost opportunity, a relationship, and the list is endless. I am not a licensed psychologist, counselor, or even a parent, but from my study and experiences, I have made some observations concerning children and grief.
Society is well aware of adult grief (although often give inadequate support) but recognizing that children also grieve is often overlooked. We grieve because someone or something that we loved or valued has been taken from us.
Age, individuality, and maturity play a very important role in how a child grieves. Nonetheless, children grieve, and their grief should be acknowledged and honored. Some children may grieve silently, and it will take observant adults to see changes in behavior, academic performance, eating and sleeping habits or signs of regression in bedwetting and speech development.
At a certain stage of development, children will be able to grasp the concept of death but not the reality that death is irreversible and final. They may have an expectation that the deceased will return, as if away on a trip. For this reason, adults should never use words like sleeping or going away as euphemisms for death. Explaining death as sleeping to a child can make a child fear sleep, thinking that they will die while asleep.
Always be truthful with children when explaining illness and death. Give them information that is age-appropriate and answer questions honestly and simply. It is important to make sure that children understand that not all illnesses result in death. Most of the time when someone gets sick, they get better. As a child, I was silently tormented with the thought that I was going to die after an elderly grandparent died.
Finally, be present for children. If you are personally grieving and cannot devote yourself emotionally to your children’s grief, ask a trusted adult to help until you are able. Experiencing good grief is important for all ages.