When A Child Grieves
Whether it’s a parent, grandparent, sibling or much-loved pet who dies, the grief a child feels can be overwhelming. By encouraging the child to share their feelings and giving them time to grieve, you can help them to say goodbye.
Grief is very individual and there is no ‘right’ way to feel. Children might withdraw, mope around, become more troublesome, have temper outbursts, change their appearance or cry. Some grieve openly right away. Others take a while to show their feelings. A child’s grief may not be constant as feelings come and go repeatedly.
Some children are angry that they have been left. They can find it difficult to carry on with everyday tasks like getting out of bed or going to school. Children can worry that they are to blame for the person leaving. Some fear that someone else close to them will die.
Help them to say goodbye
To help a child say goodbye to a loved one, reassure them that it’s not bad to be sad. It’s ok to cry but it’s also ok to have fun and to laugh. This doesn’t mean that the absent person is forgotten or not important.
A child may not believe that anyone can understand their feelings but it will help enormously if they can share them. Try drawing a picture or retelling stories about the person who has died to help the child find their words. Or go for a walk or drive where you are alone together but not face to face.
A child might more easily speak to someone outside of the family and a teacher could help. There are also young people’s helplines (Cruse on freephone 0808 808 1677) and web sites specifically for grieving children (see 'Want to know more?' below).
It can also help to tell the child how you feel. Just saying ‘I can see you are sad today. I feel sad too’ can make a child feel reassured about their feelings and comforted.
Other ways to help a child grieve might be to keep a note or scrap book dedicated to the person who died. When they feel sad the child can write messages or draw pictures for the person, telling them news or how they feel.
Or fill a memory box with things that remind the child of the absent person. Photos, a hair brush, anything at all could go in. When they are feeling sad the child can open the box and renew their good memories of the person.
A new activity which gives children a sense of personal strength and control is also good. Try a new craft project, or a new sport. Grieving children often enjoy physical activities, like swimming or running round a soft play centre, where they can let off steam.
Grieving is so individual that it’s impossible to say how long it should take. The child will most likely never stop missing the person who died. But slowly the pain will fade if the child is given time and encouraged to express their grief.