Helping Children to Overcome Grief
Wed, April 21, 2021

Helping Children to Overcome Grief

Children have difficulty processing death and often get stuck in the bargaining phase of the grief process. This is not surprising as they don’t know much about grief at such a young age / Photo by: suriyachan via Shutterstock

 

As adults, we sometimes struggle to cope with a loss. But it can feel so much different for children. Children have difficulty processing death and often get stuck in the bargaining phase of the grief process. This is not surprising as they don’t know much about grief at such a young age. It’s important that parents help them build healthy coping skills if ever someone close to them dies. This will not only help them to move on but also become more resilient in the future. 

According to the Child Mind Institute, an independent nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of children struggling with mental health and learning disorders, parents should first understand that children grieve differently. They might cry and then proceed to play next. However, this doesn’t mean that they are okay. Sometimes, they use this as a coping mechanism to distract themselves from the pain. 

Psychiatrist Gail Saltz stated that parents should expect that their kids’ behavior can be unpredictable. “Kids will not behave in a way that you might want or expect. If you decide that a funeral is not the best way, there are other ways to have a goodbye,” she said.

In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the “five stages of grief.” These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. All of these might be noticeable in children who are grieving. However, not everyone goes through each stage to heal, which is why parents need to know their children more and communicate with them. 

As Kübler-Ross said, “They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.”

 

How to Tell if Your Child is Grieving

Each child is unique, which means each one will express their grief in their own way and own time. Parents must understand that at a young age, children don’t understand that death is permanent, final, and irreversible. Thus, it’s important to understand what they are going through and how they are reacting. This is some of the signs that you might see after a loss: 

Feelings of abandonment

Most of the time, children whose loved one died feel left out. They would think that they have been abandoned or rejected. Parents should prepare themselves for signs like this because kids would find it hard to understand the reality of death. This could also result in isolating themselves from anyone because they feel unwanted.

Guilt

Children sometimes blame themselves for the loss of a loved one. It’s normal. According to Verywell Mind, a modern resource that offers a realistic and friendly approach to pregnancy and parenting, this usually happens when kids think that they play a role in their loved one’s death or because they once wished the person would “go away.”

Developmental regression

Kids who are deeply affected by a loved one’s death may stop sleeping through the night or start wetting the bed. These are normal signs that they can experience. Parents should expect this to happen since kids are still not knowledgeable enough on how to grieve that their development is affected. Also, they might revert to crawling, wanting to drink from a bottle again, or engaging in baby talk.

Clinginess

Children who are grieving would cling to their parents more. They want to be held more, ask for help for tasks they previously can do alone, cry about having to go to school, and the like.

Children who are grieving would cling to their parents more. They want to be held more, ask for help for tasks they previously can do alone, cry about having to go to school, and the like / Photo by: Gladskikh Tatiana via Shutterstock

 

How to Help Your Child

Parents should slowly but effectively make children understand what death means because, without proper explanations, their powerful imaginations would fill in the blanks in the information they have picked up from those around them. Unfortunately, their imagination can be a lot worse than the truth. For instance, when they don’t understand the concept of “burial,” they might imagine images of dead loved ones being buried alive, gasping for air, and trying to claw out of the ground. 

Most importantly, parents need to know how they will help their children not only in understanding death but also in grieving and coping. Here are some ways:

1. Label and normalize the feelings – Children who are in the grieving process often struggle to make sense of intense emotions. Sometimes, they only laugh or react differently when under stress. Thus, parents should help them label their feelings for them to understand that it’s perfectly okay to feel sad, hurt, angry, overwhelmed, confused, and even lonely. Talk to them about these emotions and teach them to find outlets for those feelings. 

2. Make them feel comfortable – When kids are uncomfortable, they tend to keep their feelings bottled up or even isolate themselves. According to Psycom.net, a highly regarded and trusted mental health resource for consumers, parents must model honesty and openness about loss. Only this time they will emerge more resilient from the experience. Also, they will not feel that they have to make sense of loss on their own or that talking about loss is taboo.

3. Be patient – Children who are in the grieving process will not be easy for anyone, especially for them. Parents need to be patient and respond similarly with comfort and truth so they will not feel that they are a burden. This would help them in knowing that they are loved. 

Finally, it’s important that children have a strong support system. They need all the understanding and help to cope with a loved one’s loss.

Parents should slowly but effectively make children understand what death means because, without proper explanations, their powerful imaginations would fill in the blanks in the information they have picked up from those around them / Photo by: Tomsickova Tatyana via Shutterstock