Helping kids deal with grief

A child may experience grief when the dynamics of the family change due to separation, divorce, trauma or death. While each child will respond differently to grief, depending on their circumstance and developmental stage, some of the more common responses to grief include:

  • Confusion
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Worry

These painful feelings often result in challenging behaviours, and many parents report the following behaviours from a child who is grieving:

  • Regression to behaviours of an earlier age ( Eg bed-wetting, thumb-sucking etc)
  • Withdrawal from friendships
  • Increased desire to be close to mum or dad
  • Unusual outbursts or tantrums over small matters

Research and clinical practice shows that the following strategies can greatly assist a child who is experiencing grief:

  1. Be honest and direct with your child

Hiding details can increase a child’s worries and fears. But at the same time, you need to ensure that the conversations you have with your child are age appropriate, and in line with your child’s cognitive understanding and ability to process information.

  1. Maintain daily routines as much as possible

Familiar routines can help to create feelings of normalcy and reduce feelings of anxiety. It may be helpful to introduce some daily rituals that allow all members of the family to share their feelings in a supportive environment.

  1. Do not judge your child’s reaction

Some children might choose to spend time alone grieving, whilst others may prefer to be around friends and family. Reassure your child that whatever they are feeling is OK. Let your child know that it is acceptable to feel angry and hurt, and that you can feel sad with or without shedding some tears.

  1. Be patient with your child’s moods

It is normal to have mood fluctuations whilst grieving. Help your child find constructive ways to express how they are feeling – perhaps through art, writing or just connecting with friends

  1. Reassure your child that feelings of grief will come and go

Children who experience grief at a young age may find that these feelings resurface several years later, as they begin to process the event in a more meaningful way. This is absolutely normal and should be expected.

  1. Seek the help of a professional if your child is struggling to manage simple tasks and normal relationships for an extended period of time.

Reference: Pearlman,M., D’Angelo Scwalbe, K., & Cloitre, M. (2010). Grief in Childhood: Fundamentals of Treatment in Clinical Practice.