Although they will feel it just as deeply, children will experience and express grief in different ways to adults. Even though a parent and child may have experienced the same loss, the way they both grieve may differ and take varying amounts of time.
Children’s understanding of death is limited to their age and cognitive development, which, in addition to the unique challenges they face, manifests into vastly different grief journeys.
Children’s grief is often intermittent
Some children appear to grieve for shorter periods than adults and they also appear to go in and out of mourning, as a coping mechanism1. A clear difference between adults and children is that children’s grief is often intermittent and sometimes seemingly absent. This is usually a result of feeling overwhelmed by the powerful emotions that accompany their grief. On the other hand, grieving adults often maintain a continual awareness and experience of loss.
Feel the Magic offers camps, programs and resources to help grieving kids learn to better manage these overwhelming grief emotions. Children learn skills, tools and coping mechanisms to help them deal with grief. It might take them some time to process the death and to find ways to express themselves.
Children need reassurance and a sense of security
Children often need to feel comfortable, gain a sense of security and feel safe enough to begin grieving. Whilst most adults who’ve lost a loved one will also experience feelings of insecurity, they’re usually able to recognise that they will eventually be okay.
Children depend on a consistent caregiver to meet their basic needs. Grieving children need a place where they truly belong and can feel safe to explore their grief and heal. Feel the Magic offers children this sense of stability through a community and network of individuals who know exactly what they’re going through.
Different understandings of death lead to different grief reactions
As adults have a greater understanding of death, they are more mature in how they manage their grief. A child’s grief reactions are related to his or her understanding of death, which in turn is related to the child’s developmental age or stage1. Grief in children and adolescents can differ from that in adults.
Common grief reactions in adults include emotional numbness, disbelief and yearning, whilst children and adolescents commonly experience strong emotions such as guilt, anger, shame and impulsivity. Younger children often express their grief behaviourally, rather than emotionally.
Challenges that come with grief
Bereaved children can face many challenges, such as coping with the loss of a loved one for the first time, adjusting to a disrupted family dynamic, and learning to cope with grief in unfamiliar settings, such as school.
Children will not only grieve the death of their loved one, but also the changes that the death brought about in their world. An adult cannot protect a child from the pain of loss, although creating a warm, safe and accepting environment will support their grief experience and create the foundation for healing.
Grief for children is cyclical
For both adults and children, it is normal to move between intense grieving and times of reprieve. However, children may swing back and forth quicker and ‘jump’ in and out of their grief more frequently. Grief is a cyclical experience for children, and growing up with loss means that they may grieve multiple times throughout different developmental stages.
Adults and children do grieve differently. It is most important to remember that no matter the age or developmental stage of a grieving individual, everyone grieves differently and there is no wrong or right way to do so.
Feel the Magic supports grieving children and their families in navigating their unique grief journey. They learn vital skills, tools and coping mechanisms, and ultimately discover a place where they truly belong and can feel safe to explore their grief. Click here to learn more about the camps and programs we offer.
- Sveen, J., Eilegård, A., Steineck, G., & Kreicbergs, U. (2013). They still grieve-a nationwide follow-up of young adults 2-9 years after losing a sibling to cancer. Psycho-Oncology, 23(6), 658-664. doi: 10.1002/pon.3463