Category: Children Grieving & Fear

Young people need as much time to grieve after the death of someone close, whether they show it or not. The most common issue for a parent is that the child doesn’t ‘seem’ to be distressed so they don’t want to upset them. Children are in a world where they are used to not having control over things and therefore often accept things quicker that doesn’t mean that it is ok with them though. Their feelings can be hidden from people, the child often watches the grown up to see how they are ‘supposed’ to react. It is a very confusing and painful time for a child and they can feel very uncertain of everything. A hug and an honesty is often the best way to help the child cope. However if you’re in much pain yourself then this can be very difficult.

Very young children may miss the person who has died but they do not really understand that death is permanent. However they will be very sensitive to the reactions of those around them. They may become very anxious and unsettled and will need even more love and attention. Try to get them back into a calm routine as soon as possible.

School-age children begin to understand more about death and become aware that the person is not coming back. They may feel angry and worried as well as sad that the safety of their world has been upset in this way. Younger children may also worry that they caused the death by something naughty they said or did.

Children tend to express their feelings through behaviour rather than words. Rather than looking distressed or crying you may find they are more irritable or energetic, for example. They may wake at night or have nightmares and they may show their anxiety by regressing to more babyish talk and demanding behaviour. Children will need explanations and reassurances about their worries and opportunities to express their feelings through talking with understanding friends and relatives or through play. Encouraging happy memories through looking at photographs or other mementoes can be a comfort.

Teenagers are more likely to understand death as an adult does and more likely to be aware of the feelings of others. However they are also likely to find it difficult to express their feelings in words, particularly to other adults and they may bottle up their emotions because they think everyone in the family is already upset enough. As a result their distress may affect their lives in other ways. For example they may become withdrawn or schoolwork may suffer or they may seem more difficult and less cooperative, for example. Make it clear that you understand they are going through a distressing time and that you are there to listen if they want to talk about the person who has died or their own feelings

With the invention of the internet many young people have found that services such as Memorial websites can give them a place to go and remember the person they have lost and share their grief with other friends and family members , without the immediacy of being face to face which most teenagers find uncomfortable.

If you are so distressed by the death yourself that you cannot offer a child or young person the support they need, try to ensure that another relative or family friend is there for them. Routine is vital for children as they can easily feel very nervous of change at this time, ultimately there is no perfect way for you to guide a child through grief and watching them try to cope can be heartbreaking.

It is essential that they know that there is someone who understands their feelings and that they do not have to cope alone.


Children Grieving

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.


The most basic feeling of loss for a child is that of fear, fear and uncertainty about: What happened? Who will die next? How will we live without the dead person?

Will my parents ever recover from their grief? Will my other parent die? How often does death occur? Who will take care of me? Where will I go if I die? Why did it happen to me? And, most especially, will I die?
Children of all ages must go through their fearful feelings until they come to their own understanding. This may be strenuous on both parents and children (e.g. nightmares, physical symptoms, regression). If children receive sufficient attention and nurturing during this fearful time, they will recover a sense of the basic dependability of life.
Listen to a child’s fears and validate them as difficult feelings to feel. Fear can appear differently in different children.
Some children act younger or regress. They want the reassurance, the care and attention that they received when they were younger.
Some children become over-achievers in an attempt to contradict their own feelings of helplessness. They may do everything “right,” even to the extent of parenting their parents.
Some children exhibit exaggerated displays of power to counteract their fears, and this may take the form of super-hero manifestations or may look like what we would characterize as naughty behavior, acting out, anger and/or belligerence.
Some children may withdraw and become very quiet, frozen in fear.

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