How to Help Children Dealing with Grief

Grief is a sad fact of life that, unfortunately, does not discriminate. People of all ages, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds will experience grief during their lifetimes. The death of a loved one, a divorce, a friend, a pet, a company, financial loss; the list is endless.

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As adults, we expect loss during our life but we cringe to ever think about how to help our children dealing with grief and that they may experience intense mourning during their childhood. The loss of a loved one, a pet, a friend who moves away, a divorce, or any other loss that may not seem like a big deal to us adults can greatly affect the child.

Helping children dealing with grief is something that we all must do at some point and it is up to us parents to do what we can to understand what our child is experiencing in order to know how to help them. Children experience grief in slightly different ways than adults and the effects manifest themselves in different ways. Consider, also, that while experiencing grief, adults are able to intellectually identify what is going on and on some level recognize that healing will eventually take place. Children, unfortunately, do not have this capability and oftentimes feel strong emotions of confusion and fear as they experience strong, unknown sad feelings.

When considering how our children experience grief, it is important to understand that most children travel through 3 main stages of grief that are necessary to experience for healing to occur. Children dealing with grief will spend different amount of times in each stage. But whatever the case, it is important that the caring adults surrounding the child allow the child to full experience their feelings of loss and allow them to move through their emotions at their own speed.

Children dealing with grief stage 1: Disorganization

When a child first experiences grief, it usually manifests itself through the acts of tantrums, regression of behaviors, mood swings, exaggerated fears, and physical symptoms such as stomach aches. This is considered a crisis stage for children and is imperative that caring adults around the child do everything they can to help the child feel safe, loved, and understood.

Children dealing with grief stage 2: Transition

During this stage, depression commonly surfaces. Children who are experiencing grief in this stage usually feel emotions such as helplessness, hopelessness, and stress. It is common in this stage for children to act out aggressively or withdrawal from activities and people around them.

Children dealing with grief stage 3: Reorganization

During this stage, the child begins to heal and move forward from the source of grief if allowed to experience the first two stages, disorganization and transition.

As you’re helping children dealing with grief, it is important that we be able to understand the stage they are in so we are able to help them cope. During the experience of grief, it is important to keep the child’s life as consistent as possible and not make a great deal of changes. Allow the child to express their emotions, own their feelings, and ask questions. Take it easy when they act out and understand what they are going through. And if all else fails, hug the grieving child and let them know that above all, they are safe and loved.

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