What Is Grief?
It is never easy to cope with the loss of a loved one and this can be a particularly difficult time for children if they do not fully understand what is happening and this can be a confusing experience for them. As parents and guardians of children, it can be painful to see them upset and sometimes parents can be at a loss to know how to help their children, through this difficult time.
Common Features Of Grief In Children
Following a death, children can experience various grief reactions;
- Emotional responses: fear, anxiety, confusion, anger, sadness, relief, loneliness, guilt and isolation.
- Physical responses: low energy, interrupted sleep/eating patterns, unexplained aches and pains.
- Social responses: loss of self-esteem and confidence, withdrawal from friends and activities – including school attendance.
- Behavioural responses: lack of concentration, temporary decrease in academic performance in school work, memory loss, ‘acting out’, aggression, irritability or regression to behaviour more commonly associated with a younger age eg. bed wetting, sucking thumb or baby talk.
Children may exhibit none, some or all of these responses and may experience them in varying intensity and varying time frames. It is important to remember that each child will deal with the loss of a loved one in their own way.
A child’s reaction to death will depend on many factors such as, natural temperament, personality, age, circumstance of death and their understanding of the situation. Some children may need extra support from parents/guardians and this may include, helping them understand that their feelings are normal, understanding and naming their feelings and helping them become aware of any behaviours that are affecting their lives.
When May Psychological Support Be Helpful?
Normally, support networks such as friends, family, school and community can provide the support to help a child deal with the death of someone close. However, sometimes, children may need psychological support and the following are some behaviours that might indicate this;
- Persistent anxiety.
- Persistent yearning/longing for the deceased.
- On-going and extreme aggression.
- Social withdrawal, lack of interest in friends and activities;
- Self-blame or guilt about the death, believing they are at fault.
- Self-destructive behaviour, hurting themselves or expressing a desire to die.
Services Offered For Grief In Children
The following psychological services are offered for grief in children;
- One to one therapy
- Family support