Expressions of Grief among Children

An important thing to remember when talking to children about death is that the discussion must be geared to that child's specific developmental level, their cultural norm, and their capacity to understand the situation. Children will be observant to the reactions of the adults that they trust about the current death and tragedy. In fact, for younger children adult reactions will play an especially important role in shaping the child's perception of the situation.

Expressions of grief can vary among individuals.  It is important to note that children may display various expressions among the different stages of grief.  The range of expressions may be as follows:

• Emotional shock and at times an apparent lack of feelings, which serve to help the child detach from the pain of the moment; 

• Regressive (immature) behaviors, such as needing to be rocked or held, difficulty separating from parents or significant others, needing to sleep in parent’s bed or an apparent difficulty completing tasks well within the child’s ability level; 

• Explosive emotions and acting out behavior that reflect the child’s internal feelings of anger, terror, frustration and helplessness. Acting out may reflect insecurity and a way to seek control over a situation for which they have little or no control; 

• Asking the same questions over and over, not because they do not understand the facts, but rather because the information is so hard to believe or accept. Repeated questions can help listeners determine if the child is responding to misinformation or the real trauma of the event. 

It is very important to acknowledge all and every expression of grief that your child is experiencing.  Let them know that it is okay to have feelings of sadness when someone close to them passes away.  You may also want to have a discussion with your child as to where they think their loved one has gone.  Openly discussing grief helps the process of healing begin.

Depression symptoms in children and teens

Common symptoms of depression in children and teens are similar to those of adults, but there can be some differences.

  • In younger children, symptoms of depression may include sadness, irritability, clinginess, worry, aches and pains, refusing to go to school, or being underweight.
  • In teens, symptoms may include sadness, irritability, feeling negative and worthless, anger, poor performance or poor attendance at school, feeling misunderstood and extremely sensitive, using drugs or alcohol, eating or sleeping too much, self-harm, loss of interest in normal activities, and avoidance of social interaction.
  • Depression may occur with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

 

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