As difficult as the loss of a loved one is on adults, it can be truly devastating to children. If a child is not attended to during the first days of their horrible loss, they may carry scars of trauma for the rest of their lives.
So a key note is – early intervention.
Adults are often so numb with grief after a loved one dies, they fail to realize that a child in the family is left to cope on his or her own. When a child loses a loved one, especially a parent or a sibling, their world falls apart. They are full of questions, plagued with confusion and guilt. They need your help.
For small children, death is not real. If Bugs Bunny gets up every time Wiley Coyote kills him, will grandma get up too? She went to heaven? When is she coming back? Be there for your child and let them ask all the questions that are filling their mind. Be honest in your answers. Death is a real part of life and children eventually need to come to terms with it.
Children go through a variation of the same stages of grief as adults. But, some of the stages can last a very long time. If children are not helped to go through stages like denial or guilt, they it have profound effect on their future. Most children believe that it is somehow their fault that their father or mother or grandpa died. If only they were better, or did their homework, or did not make so much noise… It is imperative that adults ensure children that it is in no way their fault that the loved one died.
Children grieve in spurts. One moment they are sad and crying, other they are running around, laughing and playing. It is normal. Don’t be fooled into believing that he or she is out of it. Just like for you, it takes time.
Give a child some outlets for their grief. Give them some paper and crayons or play dough. Older children might prefer to make a scrapbook of the departed loved one. They also might want to make some kind of memorial. These are all healthy ways for child to express their feelings, and might offer you a way of seeing more of how they feel than the child is able to express in words.
Many children regress to their early childhood when they lose a loved one, especially a parent. They start talking like babies, have temper tantrums, wet the bed or demand constant cuddling and carrying. It is OK for a short time. If they do not snap out of it, you will need to seek help.
It is very difficult to find the fine line between what is a normal way for children to grieve and when to look for help. The best sign that their grief is overwhelming is the prolonged lack of appetite and lack of energy. If a child refuses to see his or her friends or refuses to go to school for more than a few days, it may be time to consult with a child grief therapist. Sometimes it is enough just to ask for guidance and advice. At times, it is important to bring a child in for a talk with a qualified professional.
Most children are resilient and will bounce back if they continue to have good, loving support system despite of losing a loved family member. It might mean that you need to put your grief aside to be there for the child. But, you might find that the questions children ask and the way they talk about the person both of you lost might be very healing for you too.
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