Behaviour Matters

Coping with Grief

Coping with Grief

Losing a loved one is hard for everyone, but it can be particularly upsetting and confusing for children and youth. Children’s response to grief and loss tends to vary according to their age, developmental level, cultural beliefs, and past experiences. 

Here as some normal childhood responses to grief: 

  • Sadness– expresses missing the person and feeling sad that they are gone
  • Anger– feeling like things are unfair, like the person intentionally left them, that they are being punished for something they did. Your child may temporarily become more irritable and act out
  • Anxiety– Worrying they or others will die, having difficulties with separation, fearing sickness/hospitals 
  • Guilt – in some cases a child may blame themselves “if I’d been a good boy grandma wouldn’t have died” 
  • Isolating themselves or Acting out – desperate to understand what’s happening a child may act out as a way of coping with their feelings or shy away from others to be alone

Here are a few tips to help you support your child in dealing with their grief and loss

  • Spend time with them– Especially one-on-one. It may be harder for them to open-up when others are around. Also, it may help reassure them that you too aren’t leaving them
  • Reassure them – remind them that they are loved, they are not to blame, they cannot bring them back and that there is nothing they could do to prevent this. You’d be surprised what a difference this can make to a child. 
  • Encourage them to talk & ask questions – let them know you are there to listen. Normalize their feelings – especially if they have lots of different feelings; “its ok to be sad, mad and confused!”
  • When temporarily separating(E.g. going to school, bed) - specify when you’ll see them next. For example: “Goodnight, momma will see you in the morning” or “daddy will pick you up after school”
  • Talk honestly about death – Avoid using euphemisms like the person ‘went away’, ‘went to sleep’ or ‘closed their eyes forever’. These ways of explaining things can be confusing to kids and result in them fearing travel and/or sleep.  
  • Be careful how you explain things– telling your child ‘Uncle Joe got sick and died’ may result in them fearing illness, hospitals, etc. Instead, try providing some context “Uncle Joe had a bad heart and it stopped working”
  • Include them in rituals (funerals, memorial service, religious services)– Most kids can handle it. Explain to them what will be happening and what to expect. If they do not wish to attend, try and explore why and if they are worried about something. If they really do not wish to go, respect that
  •  Read & watch movies about grief/loss– there are lots of relevant books & movies to help you in talking to your kids.  Check out your public library or book store for some ideas!

While it’s normal for your child to temporarily struggle with the loss of a loved one, if you have concerns please reach out to your family doctor or local children’s mental health agency.