One of the ways that we can be of help to children is to understand how they are experiencing their grief and this might depend on their age and level of understanding. Other factors that might influence how they respond may be whether or not they have had a bereavement before and how everyone else around them is reacting.
Some of the ways that children express grief are by:
acting out, particularly in an angry way
becoming more clingy than usual
finding it hard to get to sleep or having nightmares or terrors
regressing for example beginning to bed wet
withdrawing from their usual activities or friends
finding it hard to concentrate
eating more or less than usual
thinking about death or expressing a wish to die to be with the person
having aches or pains without a physical cause
switching from feeling sad to acting as if nothing has happened
This is not an exhaustive list but just some of the common experiences that children have told us about
What You Can Do
Everyone may be grieving in different ways which may make it hard to talk and share. Each of you may be worried about upsetting each other. As a parent or carer you may also be managing your own grief as well as keeping family life going for the children.
It is ok to cry
Although everyone may want to protect each other by not showing feelings openly, it can be helpful for children to see others crying. This can give a message that it is ok for them to cry too.
Children may need reassurance that what they are feeling is usual as they may worry that they are not ‘normal’ or ‘going mad’. They may also need reassurance that at the moment other important people in their lives are not ill and hopefully won’t die for a very long time yet.
Express anger safely
If children are feeling angry it would be useful to think about safe ways of releasing anger for example through physical activity such as football or using a punch bag or pillow.
Keep up routines
When someone special has died it may leave children feeling insecure. Keeping up usual routines as much as possible can enable children to feel safer.
Find ways to remember
Remembering the special person can be really important to children so as a family you could collect together memories, perhaps make a memory book or box.
Keep in touch with school
School may be able to offer a key person for a child to talk to if they would like to. School can also let you know if they notice any changes in behaviour or if there is anything coming up that may provoke feelings of grief for example doing a project about families or death rituals.