Children and teens show their grief in a variety of different ways. Whilst some may show clear feelings of sadness and verbalise their emotions regarding the loss similar to many adults, others may react to the loss of a loved one in a way that you might not expect. Depending on the age of your child, they may show mixed emotions, or even complain of physical discomfort, such as headaches or stomach pains. The loss is always more intense if the child had a close relationship with the deceased, however be aware that this may not always show through when it comes to their emotions.
Understanding How Children and Teens View Death
When your child is grieving over the death of a loved one, it is helpful to understand how children and teens view death at different stages of their development. Depending on a child’s age and their level of emotional and social development, their outlook on death can vary significantly. For example, a younger child may be satisfied with a simple answer, for example ‘Grandma has died and gone to heaven’, whereas an older child or teen is more likely to have more questions, for example questions about the funeral, the will, or how their loved one passed away.
Helping Your Child to Cope
In order to best help your child to cope with the situation, you should explain the death of their loved one to them in simple and honest terms that are specific towards their development level. Whist supporting your child through this difficult time, it’s vital to ensure that they know that the loss is not their fault and that they can rely on you for support and affection. You should encourage your child to express their emotions and talk about them. If they are finding it hard to talk, you can encourage them to find other ways to express their emotions, for example by drawing a picture or writing a poem which could be used at the funeral.
When planning a funeral for a deceased loved one, many parents choose to keep their children separate from the funeral plans, and sometimes from the funeral itself. However, saying goodbye is often a necessary moment when a child is grieving for a lost loved one. Children as young as three years old can understand the concept of saying goodbye, therefore it’s important to give them the choice of whether or not they would like to attend the funeral service. Some children may wish to be present for the whole ceremony and burial, whilst others may simply attend the memorial service and wake, but not the burial. Older children and teenagers may also want to be involved somehow in the funeral plan, even if it is something as simple as selecting a flower for the coffin.
Losing a loved one is a devastating thing for a family to go through, and children and teens can find it especially distressing, especially if they were close to the deceased. Understanding how children grieve can help you to give them the best support.