Loss And Grief For Children And Young People

Just like adults, young people’s and children’s experience of loss and grief can manifest itself in many ways

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Just like adults, young people’s and children’s experience of loss and grief can manifest itself in many ways, both at the time of the event and also over time, many months or years after the initial loss. Sometimes, grief and loss responses in a young person or child are not always obvious. For example, butterflies in the stomach, headaches, angry outbursts, nightmares, challenging behaviour at school, refusal to attend school, withdrawal from the family or a particular parent or lack of focus and concentration, amongst some of the presentations. 

Some of these responses in the young person or child may also be difficult for the parent or parents to manage and as a parent you may find yourself feeling angry, hurt or want to withdraw for the young person or child. It is important to recognise that the child or young person’s response is very normal and natural for their developmental stage and that they may not have the words to express what is happening for them and/or they may be confused, shocked or overwhelmed by what is happening and are responding in a way which makes sense for them.  

Young children may not understand that the loss may be permanent, (in the case of death or divorce) and they may ask many questions about the permanent change or they may withdraw and not ask any questions. Each child and young person is different. A child or young person may believe that the loss is somehow linked to something they have done. During this time the child or young person’s need to feel loved, protected and cared for may be experienced as a demand or that they are being unreasonable. It is important to know that these behaviours may be exhibited when a person is feeling scared, unsafe, fearful and confused. 

During this time, providing comfort and reassurance and maintaining the routines which have been in place can support the child and/or young person who has experienced loss and is grieving. Routines will provide the child and/or young person with a sense of security and predictability. When loss and grief issues are recognised particularly within a safe, open and sensitive manner, the child and/or young person may not feel so alone or disengaged from their family, friends, social groups or at school.

You may also find the following EAST (children/young person version) tool helpful in re-establishing some practical patterns prior to the experience of loss

Eating: ensure the child or young person eats regularly and healthily, increase their water intake during the day, so they remain hydrated during this difficult time.

Activities: restart activities, which you know they enjoyed prior to this loss, including some type of exercise every day if possible. 

Sleeping: ensure that they go to bed at the same time, which they would have done prior to this loss. Ensure that they avoid eating high sugar foods or a large meal at least two hours prior to sleep.

Time: organise times in discussion with the child or young person for them to catch up with friends or organise a sleepover of a friend at your house and family. If you are requiring more formal support, reach out to your GP for a referral to a counselling service and/or you can contact a helpline service to work with you on your experience of loss. 

Please feel free to contact GriefLine on 1800 845 745 to discuss what is happening for your family in more detail. 

Kids Help Line

Phone: 1800 551 800

Website: www.kidshelp.com.au

HeadSpace

Headspace National Office: 

1800650890

www.headspace.org.au 

Turning Point 

(03) 8413 8413

www.turningpoint.org.au 

Drug Alcohol and Problem Gambling Support Line

1800 888 236