Contrary to popular belief, young children do experience grief and loss. This is often difficult for parents and caregivers to comprehend. Perhaps it’s because grieving children express their feelings differently than adults. Or because we mistakenly believe children are too young to recognize or understand a death. Maybe it’s because death and loss are difficult for us to think and talk about, so we shy away from the topics ourselves. It may be for hard us to accept and know, but our children and teens do in fact grieve.
Grief is understood as the reaction to any form of loss. Although there may be universal characteristics and features, the experience is personal and there’s no rigid structure to our process. We often equate grieving and loss to another person’s death, but it can encompass much more than that.
Events Children/Teens may grieve:
- Death, loss, or separation of a loved one or classmate
- Death, loss, or separation of a pet
- Death or loss of a public figure or celebrity
- Loss of a possession
- Separation or Divorce
- Moving to a new location
- Change in school or job
- Gaining a new family member
- Personal injury, illness or medical diagnosis (themselves or a loved one)
- Change in physical, developmental, or intellectual abilities
- Change in appearance or identity
- Caregivers transitioning to a new job
- Addiction recovery
- Natural or national disasters
Expressions of grief may include:
- Sudden mood swings
- Aggressive behaviors
- Appearing on-edge or irritable
- Inconsolable crying, sadness, teary-eyed, fighting back tears
- Appears fearful or anxious
- Changes in appetite, eating behaviors, weight
- Sleep changes or difficulties, nightmares
- Regressive behaviors such as bedwetting, thumb-sucking, baby-talking, etc.
- Acting more “grown up” and taking on responsibilities that are not age-appropriate
- Symptoms of headaches, stomachaches, nausea but has no known physical illness
- Continues to ask the whereabouts of the deceased person or pet and when they will return
- Repeated questions about death, voicing concerns of other people dying
- Self-blame for the incident or death
- Withdrawal from family and social supports (opposite of this may be clinging behaviors and difficulties with separation)
- Decline in academic or work performance
- Difficulty concentrating
If any of the above describes a situation your child or teen is experiencing and they are exhibiting these feelings or behaviors, counseling may be beneficial. In counseling, your child or teen is afforded a confidential space to speak freely and process their feelings. Children and young people are often looking for someone to just listen and validate them, which is what our professional counselors can do. Through a safe and non-judgmental approach, we can help them process their grief and begin healing. We can also help your child or adolescent develop coping skills and self-soothing strategies to better manage their heavy feelings.
If you believe your child or teen is struggling with any form of loss or change, our affiliated professional counselors are here to help. They practice child-friendly evidence-based techniques such as play, art, and sandtray in their therapy. They understand that grief is not something to “get over,” but rather an experience to honor and understand. Give our office a call today and let’s schedule a time to talk.