Arenât kids delightful? They are usually playful, curious, adventuresome, affectionate, helpful, spontaneous, uninhibited, etc. And then, if they experience the devastating loss of a parent, grandparent, sibling, or friend, it can turn their world upside down.
Just as we stress the uniqueness of every grieving adult, every grieving child is one of a kind. Of course, they donât have the adult âsophisticationâ of all the internalized lists of âshouldsâ that we carry around in us. Adults often have preconceived notions of what is âsupposed to beâ in terms of thoughts, feelings, and behavior in response to a loss. Children tend to react in much less prescribed ways.
Play is the language of children. Admittedly the type of play does change as children get older, but essentially itâs still in that category of play. Their âworkâ is school. So, just as adults experience a change in their work and leisure-time activities and behavior in response to a loss, children do as well. However, they are limited in their ability to articulate whatâs going on with them. Instead, we usually see it.
Add the extra dynamic of their parent also grieving the loss of a spouse and it gets even more challenging. Even very young children can sense a change in a parentâs behavior. Sometimes this leads to a fear of losing the remaining parent. Or it can also lead to a child suppressing their own emotions, trying to somehow protect the parent from hurting too much.Â
If youâve had a loss in your family, know that your child will grieve his or her own way. It wonât look the same as your grief, and yet it truly is grief. The best word to use to describe it would be âchange.â Anticipate a change in behavior of some kind. It could be in play, maybe in appetite. It could be physical symptoms like headaches or tummy aches. There could be more conflict with others or more clinging to others. They could be sleeping less or sleeping.
Itâs okay to ask for help, from friends and family or from a professional like a school counselor or one of our grief counselors. We have counselors atÂ Alive Hospice’sÂ Nashville office and the Madison and Murfreesboro offices as well that enjoy working with children. We are here for you, to help assess your children and work with them as needed. We also have childrenâs camps in the summer and a fall retreat for teens.
Help is available. Please feel free to reach out.
Ruth Williams is a counselor with Alive Grief Support Services, the bereavement support program of Alive Hospice.