Grief and bereavement
The death of a family member, friend, teacher or classmate is painful for children and teens, just as it is for adults. Children may not have experienced a loss before. They may not understand what the loss or their reaction means, and are unsure how to act or respond. Even children who have had prior losses may still be deeply affected.
What can parents do to help their children deal with death?
- Answer their questions, reassuring them of their safety.
- Provide clear information to your child regarding the death. Use clear terms with young children. Do not refer to death as “going to sleep,” “gone” or “lost.”
- Your child needs to know that the deceased is never coming back.
- Do not try to shield your child from grieving. Allow your child to share the sense of loss and the pain.
- Communicate both verbally and nonverbally that you share the loss and are there for the child. Nonverbal support comes in the form of holding or providing comforting touch.
- Be patient, questions may be repeated several times.
- Continue your child’s routine as much as possible.
Behaviors suggesting complicated bereavement
All children react to grief differently, but feelings tend to be exhibited as behavior. Aggression, withdrawal or anxieties are not uncommon. Some children will openly grieve; others may show their stress through irritability or behaving more childishly than is typical.
- Inability to talk about the death
- Angry outbursts that are destructive
- Excessive anxiety
- Onset of delinquent behavior
- Significant social withdrawal
- Onset of substance abuse
- Onset of excessive independence/ self-reliance
- Prolonged eating or sleeping disturbance
- Suicidal thoughts, comments or gestures
It is important not to assume a child who appears to be handling their loss calmly is really doing well.