Grieving is hard for adults, but grief can be confusing to children. Whether they are dealing with the loss of a grandparent, friend, parent, sibling, or pet, they may not yet have developed coping skills to adequately process grief.
Common reactions among children facing a difficult loss can include:
- Sleep difficulties
- Sadness, longing
- Anger and/or acting out
- Guilt or shame
- Problems in school
- Bodily complaints
You may need to answer questions and explain repeatedly; this is a
normal part of a child’s process of understanding and grieving. And, depending on age, they may not understand that death means the person is never coming back. Use clear terms when discussing death. Very young children may think that “losing” someone means they will eventually be found.
Children may not display sadness the same way adults do, and they may want to engage in their usual activities. It does not mean that they are not grieving or did not love the person who died. It’s okay to permit a child to engage in fun activities as they need to. But unusual changes in behavior could indicate that the child is having trouble coping with grief and loss. For example, after the death of a parent or sibling, it is typical for a child to become very clingy—not letting the surviving parent or siblings out of sight. Bereaved children may also show regressive behaviors, such as bed-wetting. Seeking advice from a counselor who specializes in childhood bereavement may be called for.