Children and adolescents are not immune to facing loss, death, dying and grief; they encounter loss and will experience a grief response. Much as we might want to protect and shelter children and try to create a world for them in which no one ever dies, losses do not occur and they never have to experience grief, we cannot. We are unable to shelter our children from these realities of daily living–loss and death.

While we often discuss how we grieve as adults, rarely do we consider the losses that children and adolescents must face and the unique ways they respond.  Whether they are grieving the death of a parent or grandparent, or are coping with other losses that are unavoidable in life, children and adolescents often do not know how to cope.

Children’s losses are often invalidated with many believing that they are too young to feel the loss or a grief response. While the way children respond varies significantly depending on their age, even infants can “sense” when something is amiss.

A child’s first experience with death is often the death of a pet. Children also can encounter the death of grandparents, parents, siblings, teachers, friends and schoolmates. Even without experiencing death firsthand, children and adolescents are exposed to loss, dying, death and grief merely by living–whether it is listening to music, playing games, or watching television or movies.

Children may face other losses through divorce, relocation or even with growing-up. As children age they must adapt to many different losses including the loss of childhood, loss of friendships, loss of identity, loss of roles, loss of self-esteem. Unfortunately, with the emphasis on growing up so soon now, children often face a loss of innocence.

It is pointless to focus on trying to protect them. Rather those who deal with children should focus on preparing, understanding and supporting children and adolescents to cope with loss. Children and adolescents are helped when the adults around them recognize that they grieve and support them as they mourn.