Grief is a natural human response to change, death and impending loss. Because grief can be so painful and overwhelming, it often frightens us. Many people worry if they are grieving “the right way” and wonder if their feelings and reactions are normal. Children are no exception to the turmoil of the grieving process, but their reactions and feelings may be difficult for adults to understand.
Children, who are still in the midst of mental, psychological, spiritual and emotional development, often react to grief very differently than adults. It falls to the parents, caregivers and counselors to recognize how the child is coping during this difficult time so that they can provide needed support.
Although there is no “rulebook” for how children should grieve, certain types of reactions to grief are common in preschool and school-age children. Other less common reactions may be a sign that your child needs more support, perhaps with a professional grief counselor. Following are examples of common behaviors that you can expect to see in grieving children, in addition to warning signs that may indicate that a child is in need of grief counseling.
Common Reactions to Grief in Children:
- Shock and disbelief—the death seems like a bad dream that will not go away.
- Confusion or absent-mindedness.
- Longing for what used to be.
- Withdrawal and avoidance of others.
- Numbness or moodiness.
- Changes in appetite or eating habits.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Fatigue or lack of energy.
- Sudden change in school performance or behavior.
- Periodic loss of interest in schoolwork or favorite activity.
- Apathy and lack of motivation.
- Explosive emotions, upsetting and difficult to control.
Warning Signs/Complicating Factors Indicating a Need for Grief Counseling:
- Poor relationship and communication between child and parent.
- Other losses have occurred recently.
- Death causes relocation or other significant lifestyle changes.
- Child won’t discuss the death with trusted adults.
- Death was unexpected, abrupt or traumatic.
- Terminal illness that involves significant physical or mental changes in the loved one.
- Death has been concealed or not explained.
- Child expresses persistent obsessive thoughts and preoccupation with the deceased.
- Persistent loss of interest in schoolwork or favorite activity.
- Sudden personality changes (for example, an outgoing child becomes unusually withdrawn).
- Frequent irritability or unexplained crying.
- Preoccupation with pain, death or suicide.
Typical grief reactions can vary depending on a specific child’s age and social/cognitive development. Kids Path counselors are available to consult with any parent, caregiver or school about how best to support a child with loss related to death or severe illness.
Call 336.544.5437 and ask to speak with a counselor.