People process grief in different ways. If your caregiver role has ended due to the death of the person in your care, it’s understandable to feel grief, especially if that person was close to you and your family. For a grieving child, like anyone, grief is an individual process.
The way children experience grief will depend largely on their age and/or developmental stage, the nature of their relationship with the person who died, and the circumstances of the death.
While children do experience common stages of grief, they may express their feelings differently than adults. Children may not show their feelings about grief as openly as adults. They are often able to continue their usual activities even though they may have feelings of anger, and fears of abandonment and death.
Their grief may appear to come and go and may seem brief; however, childhood traumatic grief usually lasts longer than adult grief and requires continual support and monitoring. Childhood grief may also resurface as they continue to grow and develop.
Childhood grief and loss may be shown through behaviour extremes, such as acting very passive or very aggressive.
How to help a grieving child
- Encourage your grieving child to ask questions and be prepared to give honest and simple answers.
- Speak at a language level the child can understand.
- Remember to listen and try to understand what is being asked, and also, what is not being asked.
- Be approachable and non-judgemental. A grieving child should feel that they are free to express their thoughts or questions.
- Be patient.
- Share your feelings and encourage your child to be open about theirs. You are their role model.
- Discuss the cause of death at a level your children can understand and emphasize that they were in no way responsible.
- Explain the funeral rituals and let the grieving child decide how they will participate. Do not insist they do anything that is not comfortable for them.
Allow children to grieve
Grief and loss are normal, healthy processes. Allowing children to experience their grief helps them through the process.
It may help to talk to a professional counsellor who has the knowledge and experience needed to help you deal with grief, whether it’s your own or a grieving child.