Most grievers do experience sadness, shock, anger, and guilt, but the process of grieving is unique to each person. There is neither a road map for grief nor an end that everyone reaches.
Grief can be a lifelong process that changes over time. For children, it’s important to accept the reality of the loss, learn healthy coping skills, and learn to maintain a connection to their loved one.
It’s important to give children time and space to grieve. Staying busy doesn’t make feelings of grief go away. It only prevents children from being able to express their feelings.
Grief is both universal and extremely personal—we all grieve differently. Some children process emotions through play, some through talking, and others process internally. Especially within families, it is important to remember that everyone is grieving in their own way.
It’s important to talk to children in an age-appropriate way, and answer their questions clearly and directly. Children absorb what grown-ups say and do, even if they don’t seem to be paying attention.
Children’s grief should be acknowledged, and many children benefit from being included in the planning of memorial events, and the opportunity to do something that is meaningful to them. Prepare the children what to expect at a memorial event and give them permission to participate or not if they change their mind.
Talking about complicated concepts around death and spirituality can be challenging. It’s normal for children to ask questions repeatedly as they try to understand. These conversations take time and patience for everyone involved.
Children who are grieving often experience intense feelings; however, that doesn’t necessarily mean they need medical or psychological interventions. Most children can work through their grief with the help of loving adults and guided peer support. Many children build resilience and insight into the deeper meaning of life after they experience loss at a young age.
However, self-destructive behaviors, thoughts of suicide, and further isolation are warning signs that should not be ignored, and may be an indication that professional attention is needed.