Grief can be expressed differently in children than it does in adults. Children often respond to death through emotional shock and apparent lack of feeling. Your child may:
- Run out to play or watch TV after being told someone they love has died.
- Frequently ask for information regarding the death.
- Express personal guilt for the death.
- Act out their feelings at home and at school.
- Temporarily regress.
- Common responses in children may include anxiety, fear or anger. They may also show signs of depression, confusion, aggression, withdrawal or feelings of guilt even though they hold no responsibility for the death. It is important to let the child know that their feelings are okay.
- Your child may fear that you too will die. Reassurance that you plan to be there to continue your love and care can help.
When telling your child about the death of a loved one, keep in mind:
Children respond to the behavior of parents and other adults. Allow children to observe others grief – share your feelings and thoughts.
- Answer their questions as realistically as possible.
- Be prepared to answer questions about what happens to the body (10-12 year old boys are particularly interested in the biological changes in the deceased).
- Explain death using the understanding of your own faith that though the body has died, the spirit lives on. Take care not to explain death as sleeping. A young child may come to fear sleep.
- Help younger children understand death by explaining the difference between minor and serious illness or accident, so that they will not fear a minor illness such as a cold will result in their death.
- Explain the funeral process - most children over 4 years of age look forward to being included in the funeral services.
- Encourage them to talk about their thoughts and feelings. Explain that it is healthy to express their feelings, and that they will become less intense as time passes. Encourage your child to remember and talk about their loved one. Explain that it is still okay to be happy.
- Maintain the order of the day (such as meals and bedtimes) as much as possible.
- Be alert to some regression in younger children:
- forgetting how to dress
- stuttering or thumb sucking
- clinging behavior