How do children grieve?
Like adults, each child’s reaction to death will be unique and may be experienced on many different levels.
Signs or symptoms of grief can include, but are not limited to:
- Acting-out behavior
- Tiredness, lack of energy
- Changes in grades
- Sleep disturbance
- Increased “accidents”
- Headaches, stomach aches or skin rashes
- Difficulty with concentrating or focusing
- Regressive behavior, such as thumb sucking, bed wetting or clinging.
- Unlike adults, children have a difficult time sustaining strong feelings. Therefore, mood swings and outbursts of emotion are common.
Should children attend funerals?
Yes. Attending the funeral allows the child to be a part of the family at a time when they need love and attention the most. If the child is leery of the funeral, perhaps you can arrange a private moment before or after the service for the child to say goodbye. Or ask your funeral director if their facility has a playroom where that child could stay until the service is complete.
The important thing is that the child is with friends and family and not isolated from the situation.
Do children need an advance explanation of what to expect at a funeral?
Learning what to expect at the funeral is very reassuring for children. Be honest and clear when explaining the details.
Remember, children take things very literally so try not to use euphemisms in your explanations. For young children, simple statements are sufficient. For example, explanations like a funeral is a way to say “goodbye” or a casket is a nice box that holds the body, will help them understand.
How can we protect children from the loss?
It is impossible to protect children from the pain of losing someone they loved. Trying to hide the death from them will only delay their inevitable realization that the person is no longer a part of the child’s life. It is better to include children in the mourning experience and teach them a healthy way to deal with their feelings.
Should children see their parents and/or family grieving?
Yes. Children learn how to express their own feelings by example. If a child is able to witness important adults in their life openly grieving, then they too will be able to express their feelings of loss. Sharing how they feel is often an essential part of the healing process.
How can adults help a grieving child?
Adults need to provide a supportive, caring environment in which children are allowed to openly express their feelings. This includes hugging the child, listening to them talk about their feelings, letting them know it’s ok to cry, and that they will not feel such deep sadness forever.
Some children may want to be more creative in how they express their emotions. Writing a letter to the deceased, drawing a picture, or composing a song are all excellent ways to release grief and pain. These projects also can be included in the ceremony, giving the child a meaningful way to say goodbye.
Can loss permanently scar a child?
Often children are more resilient then we think they will be. With support, love and comfort from you and the other important adults in their lives, children adjust and learn to live with loss.