Helping a child through loss
The loss of a loved one or something of significance to a child can be devasting for them.
A child may experience grief and sadness following not only death but also from breakup in the family, moving school, learning of a family member’s sickness or changing class.
Children react to and express loss differently. This depends on their stage of development, age, connection with what they have lost, temperament, and past experiences. However, you can support them and help reduce their grief and distress and improve their coping using psychological strategies. Our telehealth psychologists work closely with children, parents and if able teachers to help a child who is grieving.
Children experience a wide range of emotions to loss, these include:
Some children may be overwhelmed by strong feelings. Some might become introverts, withdrawing to themselves. Others might express their feelings by exhibiting challenging behaviours, throwing tantrums.
Common ways in which loss can impact upon a child:
Their thinking: children might find it difficult to concentrate, or make decisions. The child might see nightmares, become unmotivated, or show poor performance in school.
psychological wellness: Children may be inquisitive about death, and ask a lot of questions in that regard. They may want to know why such a thing happened, and where the affected person is at the moment.
Emotional imbalance: Grief is not static. Children may be grieving one moment, and then playing the next. They may feel responsible for their parents or express anxiety about them.
Behaviour: Their behaviour might be demanding or challenging as they try to get reassurance or care from you. They may express regressive behaviour, like wetting the bed.
Friendships: Children may withdraw from friends or family. They may also become more clingy or dependent. Some will attempt to assume the role or an adult or an older sibling who has passed on.
Physical Health: Sickness may become more frequent. Children may experience stomachaches, hyperactivity, or tiredness. Their sleeping and appetite may also change.
What can you do to help?
Support and comfort the grieving child
Always reassure them of your love and the fact that you will be there for them.
Let them know that what happened is not their fault in any way.
Maintain usual routines so that they can feel secure and grounded.
Talk with them and encourage them to ask questions.
Take care answering their questions. Ensure that the answers that you give are appropriate for their age and development.
Inform the child’s school of what has happened, they maybe able to offer additional support.
Assist them to find ways in which they can express their feelings, such as through writing, play, music, or drawing.
Find time to do fun things together; sport, movies, playing with a pet.
Arrange counseling or a telepsychology session for them if they are not coping and would benefit from additional supports.
How to talk to children about grief and loss
Take a moment to think about how you will broach the topic with your child. It is not easy breaking news to them, however, they will be feel supported knowing that you were there and supported them throughout the process.
Here are some tips:
Be as open and as honest as possible about what has happened
Try to make it as simple as you can. Use the language that is appropriate for their age – language that they can easily understand
Pay attention to them – you may not necessarily have all the answers at the moment.
Answer the questions calmly and consistently
Let them take their time to process what has happened.
Use toys, play, or storybooks to explain what has happened to them
You can seek assistance from a trusted adult, for example, a GP, psychologist, or child psychiatrist. You can also arrange for a telepsychology session with