Adults overwhelmed with grief and loss may struggle to support the special needs of the children in the family, especially because children’s grief may look different from adults’ grief. But it’s important that adults find a way to support and reassure children suffering the loss of a loved one.
Children express their grief in a variety of ways, and siblings in a family may not grieve in the same way. Don’t expect children to follow any certain pattern. It’s important to realize the different ways grief may appear in children and what they need from the adults around them.
The National Alliance for Grieving Children promotes awareness of the needs of children and teens grieving a death and provides education and resources for anyone who wants to support them.
The NAGC offers this information on childhood grief:
- Grief is a normal reaction for children to the death of someone significant. Children never “get over” a person’s death but learn to live with the reality. Children need adults to be patient with them as they adjust.
- Children need to know the truth. Children know more than we think they do, and by not telling the truth, we risk leaving children to process complicated information on their own, rather than with the loving adults in their lives.
- Each child’s grief is as unique to him or her as was their relationship to the deceased. Some children have a need to talk about the person who died and their feelings about it; others might not talk about the person at all or might express their grief through art, play, music, or writing.
- Grieving children often feel alone and misunderstood. It is helpful to children when the adults in their lives provide opportunities to acknowledge the grief everyone is feeling. It is also helpful when children are able to gather with peers grieving over similar situations.
- Children will experience grief over the death of significant people at different times throughout their lives. Grief is a lifelong journey, and children often experience their grief on different levels and at different times throughout their lives. When a child gets their driver's license, scores a touchdown, goes to prom, or graduates from high school, they might revisit their grief in a very intense way.
- Grieving children often experience personal growth as a result of their loss. Personal growth is often a by-product of going through the grief. It is important to note that personal growth does not diminish the sense of loss or grief a person feels, nor does it imply that someone's death was a positive experience. Yet, many children have reported that they are more compassionate toward others, value relationships with friends and family on a new level, or experience a greater sense of appreciation for life after the death of someone.
- Grieving children feel less alone when they are with other children who have experienced the death of a significant person and when they have loving, consistent adults in their lives. Research has shown that one of the top indicators of how well children will do after the death of a significant person in their life is directly related to the type of relationship they have with the surviving adult(s) in their lives and how well these adults are able to cope with their own grief.
- Knowledge is power. You do not have to be alone as the parent or caregiver of a grieving child. There are many resources available via the Internet and in the form of grief support for your child. You can find children’s grief support programs near you at www.ChildrenGrieve.org, and you can find encouragement and answers to some of your questions at the following websites: