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Women and Family Care

Children grieve differently than adults

Grief is the natural response to loss. A child who has felt love or attachment will grieve the loss.

  • Children tend to express their grief intensely, but in short episodes. They may cry one minute and be off to play the next.
  • Children may delay showing any grief response. It's not unusual for children to begin their grieving months after the death has occurred.
  • Children express grief appropriate to their age.
  • Children often re.process the death with each developmental stage. They may ask questions years later.

How do children express their grief?

  • Like adults, each child will show his or her grief in unique ways.
  • Their age and experience influence how they grieve. Children in the same family will express their grief differently.
  • It's not unusual for younger children to regress to behaviors from an earlier period, i.e. bed wetting, thumb sucking, clinging, tantrums.
  • They have increased need for reassurance, i.e. not wanting to go to school, not wanting to leave home or be separated from parent.
  • They may express their anger by acting out at school, with siblings or parents.
  • Children may feel self blame or guilt; believing they somehow caused the death or could have prevented it. They need to know that nothing they said or did caused the death.
  • Children may express their grief through their behaviors, thoughts, feelings or physical changes – sleeping or eating disturbances, headaches, or stomach aches, for example.

Including children in memorial services and funerals

  • Talk to children about the reasons we have funeral and memorial services. "A Funeral is a special way to remember someone who died and for people to come together to talk and support each other."
  • Explain what takes place at these rituals and what they might expect to see. Talk about why people send flowers and sing songs. Talk to them about the purpose of a casket or ashes and if the body will be viewed.
  • Let them know that some people will be crying. Explain that they are crying because they are sad. Explain that you will be sad too and will probably cry and it's okay for the child to cry too.
  • After you have talked to them about what to expect, ask them if they want to attend.
  • Children may want to participate in some special way by writing a letter, making a drawing, lighting a candle, or bringing a flower. Some children may want to donate a toy in memory of the sibling during a local toy collection or make up other rituals of their own.
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