Grief and Loss For Children and Adolescents

How children and adolescents understand, process and express their loss can vary.
Grief and Loss For Children and Adolescents

Grief and loss responses in children

Grief and loss responses in a child are not always obvious, sometimes they are acute and affect the child physically as well as emotionally. Common grief responses in children include:

  • butterflies in the stomach
  • headaches
  • angry outbursts
  • nightmares
  • challenging behaviour at school
  • refusal to attend school
  • lack of focus and concentration
  • withdrawal from the family or a particular parent

Some of these responses in the child may also be difficult for the parent or carer to manage and as a parent you may find yourself feeling angry, hurt or want to withdraw for the child. It is important to recognise that the child’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 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 adolescent is different. A child may believe that the loss is somehow linked to something they have done. During this time, the 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 who has experienced loss and is grieving. Routines will provide them with a sense of security and predictability. When loss and grief issues are recognised particularly within a safe, open and sensitive manner, the child may not feel so alone or disengaged from their family, friends, social groups or at school.

EAST for Children

You may also find the following EAST self-care guide helpful in re-establishing some practical patterns prior to the experience of loss

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

Activities: restart activities, which you know they enjoyed prior to their 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 for them to catch up with friends or organise a sleepover at home. If you are requiring more formal support, reach out to your GP for a referral to a counselling service or you can contact a helpline service to work with you on your experience of loss.

Referral Resources

Motherless Daughters

Support, information and resources for daughters and families who have lost their mothers. For fact sheets and other support tools visit: https://www.motherlessdaughters.com.au/mother-loss-resources. The Memories of Mum Journal is an effective way for a child to explore their feelings and communicate their loss in a unique and creative way. Suitable for children aged 4+ it helps to make sense of their grief and loss while creating a personalised memoir.

Kids Helpline

For kids, teens and young adults aged 5 to 25 years, this free helpline is accessible 24/7. Call 1800 551 800 anytime, for any reason, or visit: https://kidshelpline.com.au/

Headspace

Supporting young people with their mental health and wellbeing. Call the free helpline 1800 650 890 or visit https://headspace.org.au/ for more information about their programs and services.

Feel the Magic

Providing early intervention grief education programs for kids aged 7 – 17 years who are experiencing pain and isolation due to the death of a parent, guardian or sibling. Visit https://feelthemagic.org.au/ for more information.

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