As per the dictionary definition ‘grief’ is ‘keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.’
In children, grief is a process that happens when one loses something dear to them. It’s helpful for a child to have adequate time to heal from the loss. Grieving can happen in many situations ranging from relocation, divorcing parents, loss of a pet, a close family member or loss of anything dear to them. Children grieve differently in different situations. There is a high possibility that a child’s grief gets overlooked because of the inability of the adult involved to identify and support him/her.
Over time it has also become increasingly clear that children grieve in different ways or express their grief differently to adults. “Kids often grieve in spurts because they can’t seem to tolerate grief for long periods of time,” says Susan Thomas, LCSW-R, FT, Program Director for the Center for H.O.P.E. at Cohen’s Children’s Medical Center of New York. She explains that, “Kids seem to jump in and out of grief.” This means that they can often distract themselves, but when something happens, all the emotion they’ve been pushing away appears back.
Silence isn’t golden during grief. Children may not verbalize their feelings as they may have felt that sharing their feelings could be hurtful or could bring more sadness. It is also not uncommon for children to experience guilt following loss. Reassurance by a trusted adult and having ongoing conversations may help them deal with the grief.
Some signs of grief and loss in children that may show up after the loss are:
- Loss of interest in day-to-day activities
- Fear for personal survival
- Increase in separation anxiety
- Impaired ability to make emotional attachments
- Lack of sleep, loss of appetite, loss of self-esteem
- Prolonged fear, worries, anxiety
- Regression in younger children, e.g. wanting to be carried, being clingy, wanted to be fed by an adult, etc.
- Change in behavior e.g. either being aggressive or passive
- Withdrawal from friends or family
- Sharp drop in school performance or school refusal
Psychologists agree that if the grief is not resolved in the early years, it may well last into the adult life. Studies show that emotional distress in adolescent and adulthood including depression, anxiety, alcoholism and suicidal ideations are often linked with bereavement suffered in childhood. If you are witnessing some of the above mentioned symptoms in your child, it’s beneficial to seek out help from a professional.
- Helping Children Cope with Separation and Loss by Claudia L. Jewett
Director SACAC Counselling Pte Ltd
Clinical Member SAC
SAC Registered Counsellor
CMSAC, Reg, CLR, MSc (Counselling), Grad Cert. (Counselling)