Understanding Grief in Children Part 1

Understanding Grief in Children

Before we can talk to our children about grief, we have to understand our own feelings about grief. As adults, we must be comfortable in our own understanding and beliefs about death so that we can communicate effectively and provide our children with the reassurance they deserve.

Help prepare yourself for talking to children about grief by exploring your own feelings about loss. Bad things do happen to good people. How do I make sense of this? The world is an unpredictable place for all of us. How can I explain the randomness of life to my children? How do I explain that God’s promise to us isn’t one of a perfect life, but instead His promise is of companionship through life?

Become an expert on your own feelings of grief. It’s important to talk to your children about death. Parents who don’t take the time to talk about the important subject of death with their children, allow their children to mistakenly fill in the blanks with erroneous information. Also, these parents are conveying the subtle message that death and subsequent grief are subjects that aren’t discussed. These children may learn to suppress their emotions, leading to lifelong emotional difficulties.

Perspectives of Troy Counseling Centers offers grief and loss counseling for adults, adolescents and children. Call us at 248-244-8644 to schedule your first appointment. 

We are born with the ability to grieve. Surprising to some, but long known by researchers, infants display grief from their very first moments of life. If a primary caretaker, typically a parent, is removed from the infant’s life—the infant will show signs of grief. These signs present themselves as agitation, sleep disturbances and appetite disturbances.

As children begin to grow, a young child may not respond to news that a death has occurred. During this concrete stage of development (up to age 12) the concept of death is based on the child’s five senses. An individual is gone and then an individual is here. If an individual is gone and continues to be gone a young child may grieve the smell, touch or sound of the person. The young child may grieve each time one of these senses formerly provided for by the missing individual is deprived from them.

Being in a concrete stage of development, young children (up to age 12) tend to generalize from the specific to the general. For example, if an individual died in their sleep, a young child may believe that they themselves will also die when they go to sleep. Therefore, adults play an important part in the young child’s understanding of grief. Helping children to feel more comfortable in the midst of grief can be the most rewarding job we have as adults.

Answer children’s questions about death concretely. Honest and simple answers are the most effective approaches. Avoid euphemisms, e.g. “went to sleep”, and avoid too much detail. Children will ask what they want to know. Perspectives of Troy Counseling Centers have specialists that work with children who suffer from grief and loss due to death, divorce and trauma.

By Patricia Mroch, MA, LPC, NCC

Read Part 2

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