Growing up is an ongoing process of change that involves losses as well as gains. Changes such as starting childcare, school, sleeping over at a friend’s house, changing classes and teachers, or losing a pet, a friend or a family member all bring new challenges and new learning. Depending on the support children receive and how these early losses are dealt with, children can learn to manage and deal with the losses that will happen throughout their lives.
Children do grieve and this can happen at an early age, but not in the same way that adults grieve. Children are likely to show their grief in less direct ways than adults. Children move in and out of grief. One day they will seem to be fine and another day they will be showing that they are not managing so well.
Children often have more needs at times of loss which can lead to demanding behavior as they try to get closeness, care, information, reassurance and support from adults. The experience of loss affects each child differently. The child's age, emotional maturity, the circumstances of the loss, and the 'connectedness' with the person or whatever the child has lost are important factors. It is important to look at each child individually and work out what will best help that child.
Some of the losses for children are the same as for adults, for example:
Other times children grieve for something that seems small to adults but is big for children, e.g. losing their favorite blanket or toy.
Young children especially don't have the words to talk about their feelings in the way that adults do. They may not even really know what they feel. Some of the ways they show grief may be:
Times of family loss are times of particular stress on children
Special Note: Professional help is needed if a child:
Note: Children's grief can affect adults personally, especially if they are grieving themselves or if it is a reminder of a past loss. If this happens you need to deal with this. Talking with a supportive person, either a friend or a professional with an understanding of the grieving process, can make a difference.
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor or other qualified professional.
Reprinted with permission. Copyrights belong to Children’s, Youth and Women’s Health Service, Government of South Australia.
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