Children who have lost a love one grieve differently then adults. It's important for parents to understand what grief looks like in their children so they can support them fully.
Things to consider when a child is grieving:
1) Children may be sad one minute and then be playing the next. This does not mean that the child is through the grief process.
2) Children express grief in different ways. Some children may express more worries or fears, some might act out or be quick to anger, some might withdraw. Be aware of any changes in your child's mood or behavior, it may be a grief response.
3) Denial is common. Whether it's denial of the loss or denial of feelings, children have a hard time processing big emotions
4) Children may have a delayed response to grief or may start grieving past losses triggered by their recent loss. Children who do not seem affected at first may experience a grief response weeks or months later. Watch for signs and don't discount any emotions or difficulties could be a result of their loss.
What parents should do to support their child after a loss:
1) Have open, honest, age appropriate conversations about the loss of their loved one. Make a space where it is okay and encouraged to talk about their feelings. Encourage them to be honest about their own emotions. Discuss different ways people grieve and let them know that their grief may look different then others who experienced the loss as well.
2) Accept, acknowledge, and support all of your child's feelings.
3) Talk about ways to cope with their feelings in healthy ways. This should include things your child enjoys. Parents should encourage and give their children permission to be happy even when grieving.
4) Keep routines as consistent as possible. Also, prepare your child for any changes in normal routines due to the loss of their loved one.
5) Check in with your own emotions and get help when needed. Children will follow their parent's lead managing and coping with emotions.
6) You don't have to have all the answers. It is more important to be an active listener and a source of support. When children ask questions, keep the answers brief and honest. Use real words when talking about death. Using euphemisms may evoke fears or create confusion.
7) Encourage children to participate in meaningful activities to remember their loved one. These activities allow children to process their grief in positive ways.
Children cope with grief in different ways. If your child's grief is affecting their daily functioning for an extended period of time, it may be necessary to seek professional help. Counseling can help children process and cope with grief as well as improve their functioning.
Amanda Be, LMSW, MBA is owner and counselor at Supportive Counseling Services in Grosse Pointe, MI. Amanda has been a practicing clinical social worker since 2005. She is passionate about helping others lead happier, more successful lives through her private practice, advocacy and volunteer work. Amanda’s main objective is to support others during life’s challenges and hopes these blogs will help. She writes and speaks on topics for parents, counselors and educators.