Children grieve, too.

By Taylor Medernach, MSW LCSW RPT

Grief is a normal reaction for adults and children alike after the death of someone significant. Everyone grieves differently and children are no exception to this. Regardless of their relationship with the deceased, it is normal for changes and challenges to arise for grieving children.

For many families, determining how to support their child can feel difficult as many adults are dealing with their own sense of loss, overwhelm and helplessness. For fear of causing more harm, adults often avoid talking and sharing about the death. Grieving children can often be left feeling alone, isolated and misunderstood. 

Thursday, November 18th, 2021 is National Children’s Grief Awareness Day. Children’s Grief Awareness Day was created in 2008, by the Highmark Caring Place, with the mission to spread awareness that children grieve, too. It is a common misconception that children are often too young or don’t understand.

The reality is that “Anyone old enough to love, is old enough to grieve” (Dr. Alan Wolfelt). Most children have some awareness of death, even if they do not fully understand it. Death can also result in many environmental changes for children, which most will respond to. 

Here are a few special considerations when supporting a grieving child:

  • Provide your child with honest, age-appropriate information about the death. Having little experience and information can leave children feeling confused and scared. Oftentimes, they are much smarter and intuitive than we give them credit for. Avoid euphemisms such as passed away, sleeping, lost, sickness, etc. This type of information can potentially hinder their ability to heal and cope. 
  • Give your child the opportunity to share their feelings and ask questions. Each child’s perspective may be unique given their age and experiences. Allow for all feelings and emotions without judgement. Provide space to discuss and answer any questions your child may have. It is normal for children to have more questions about death and dying, after a death occurs.
  • Children’s grief looks different from adults. It is common for children to experience physical symptoms (i.e. stomach aches, headaches, low energy), increase in separation anxiety, increased worry about health/death (for self and others), regression in sleep or toileting, intense emotional outbursts, difficulty focusing or concentrating, increase feelings of irritability or frustration and/or resurfaced sadness about other deaths. Children grieve in cycles and may also need time to take breaks from grieving. 
  • Take care of yourself. Children follow the cues of those around them. Allowing your child to see you cry, talk about your grief, express your feelings, etc. This conveys the message that it is OK for them to do the same. Remind them that your grief might look different than theirs, or other family members, and that is OK. Be patient with yourself, and your child. Grief has no timeline and is not a linear process. 

Wear Blue on Thursday, November 18th for Children’s Grief Awareness Day!