Supporting Children and Young People with Grief
The grief that children and young people are feeling in response to loss may manifest itself in many different ways. No two children or young people, as with adults, will respond to loss and grief in the same way.
Their age and stage of development will of course have a strong bearing on how they respond. All children and young people will feel loss – a baby and toddler will experience it as separation from their care–giver whilst a 3-5 year old will begin to ask questions to try and understand what is happening and think that the deceased person will come back – but it will look different according to these ages and stages.
Their response will vary also according to the relationship they had with the person or thing in question, the nature of the loss, their own previous experiences of loss, their emotional reserves and their support networks.
Children may feel overwhelmed by the emotions and feelings they have and need support to cope with and understand them:
- Appetite and eating
- Sleep patterns
- Behaviour and mood– sometimes experiencing a lack of control over emotions
- Regression in speech or behaviour
- Illness, real or somatic (when unexpressed emotions lead to physical discomfort)
- Anger and frustration
- Bargaining (‘If mummy comes back, I’ll be good’)
Children and young people can’t sustain grieving like adults do – they have to have a break from it. This is why you will see a young child sad one moment and engaged in play the next. As children get older, they may sometimes want things to be normal and at others want their losses to be acknowledged and to be helped.
Your responses, as an education professional, will be crucial in helping them to grieve, in partnership with their family as appropriate. They need the opportunity to grieve, just as adults do.
Being in school, a familiar place, may be really helpful for some children as they will see staff they know who, whatever their role, will be compassionate and support them.
Routine is crucial as children and young people will have had to deal with significant change, whatever their loss. Routine will enable them to have some security and stability.
Being able to empathise is crucial, but it is important to keep boundaries and get more specialised therapeutic support as needed.
All children and young people will need to be supported to communicate their feelings and to understand their emotions. Talking is one way of doing this but other child-centred, non-verbal approaches can work really well. Many of us adults can need time to get to the point where we are ready to talk and for children this is even more the case.
Making sure that you have lots of age-appropriate resources and books about loss, grief and bereavement that you and others working with them can use.
If children and young people are experiencing ‘anticipatory grief’ as a result of Covid, there are some key things that you can do:
- Find out what they know
- Be honest about the facts and information
- Give small chunks of information
- Find out what they are particularly worried about
- Don’t make promises that can’t be kept – ‘your gran won’t get ill’
- Focus on what you can do to keep safe. This will help the child or young person feel more in control
Link to useful worksheets: https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-worksheets/grief/none