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A child old enough to love, is old enough to grieve.
A common myth is that children do not grieve. Death, divorce, relocation, separation from a caregiver, and disruption in social connections are all losses that might affect your child. Children can experience loss at home, at school, and in their social groups.
Developmentally, your child cannot stay in sadness for prolonged periods of time. A child may go from playing and laughing, to crying and feeling upset. You might find that your child will exhibit a variety of emotions during their time of grief.
Common grief reactions in children include:
To support your grieving child, it is important to consider the following:
Type of Loss: Grieving is more complicated after a sudden or traumatic loss. Children affected by multiple losses may have a heightened grief response. Remember, there is no one right way to grieve and children will grieve in their own way and time.
Developmental & Emotional Functioning: Developmental level and emotional functioning will affect a child’s ability to experience, cope, and express feelings related to a loss. In fact, issues related to a loss may re-emerge at later developmental stages.
Understanding Childhood Tasks of Grief: Dr. Sandra Fox from the Boston Medical Center developed a model called the ‘Good Grief Program’. This helpful framework can help adults support a child affected by loss.
Adult Reactions: Your reaction to the loss will play an especially important role in shaping your child’s perception of the situation. You are your child’s emotional barometer. Whether your feelings are hidden or apparent, your child will be attuned to your emotional reactions. Your child will watch for verbal and nonverbal cues for whether discussing the loss is bearable by you. If it is unbearable for you to talk about, it will be just as unbearable for your child to name feelings related to their loss in your presence. One of the greatest gifts you can give to your child during this time, is the invitation to express their grief and communicate feelings.
Each child’s grief experience is unique. Providing the space for your child to speak the unspeakable will enable healing for both of you. And, while your child may not remember what you say, they will never forget the way you make them feel and the love you provide.