Children need the opportunity to grieve as any adult would
The death of a parent, grandparent, care giver, sibling or pet is something that is sometimes faced early on their life. Often it is wrongly assumed that the child or young person will not be greatly affected by the death of someone close as they are too young to understand all of the consequences, but this does not mean that they do not feel the loss. This is completely untrue and obstructive. Even a baby can feel and experience loss.
Whilst they are unable to cognitively process the loss, this does not mean that they don’t feel the loss. Both children and young people need to have the opportunity and time to grieve as any adult would. By trying to ignore the child’s grief will not protect them, but is likely to cause damage to them in later life. They need to be encouraged to talk about their feelings and supported to enable them to understand the emotions being felt.
We need to remember that children grieve in different ways
What is also important is that we need to remember that children and young persons will grieve in different ways. All grief journeys are different and unique to that person, so it is important not to assume that all children will experience their bereavement in the same way, or that they will display the same behaviours as other grieving children. The way that a child or young person’s grief differs from an adult is that it may alter as they develop and mature.
Children and young people may revisit the death and reassess their emotions and feelings as they progress through their development. Children and younger persons do not yet have the emotional capacity to concentrate on their grief for long periods of time. Due to this it is not uncommon for them to become sidetracked by play. This is the brain’s protective mechanism coming into play, allowing the child or young person to be less focused on the bereavement.
By trying to ignore the child’s grief will not protect them, but is likely to cause damage to them in later life.
Children need to be given all the facts in a language that is 'appropriate' for their age
Time is a key factor with children and young people, being allowed to grieve and begin the process of addressing the loss. They need to be given all of the facts regarding the death in a language that is appropriate for their age and/or level of understanding. Avoiding the use of metaphors, such as “Nanny has gone to sleep.” may make the child think that Nanny will come back if she wakes up. This could lead to them constantly asking if Nanny has woken up or cause potential issues in going to sleep for them and everyone else they care about in case they don’t wake up.
Failure to be honest with a child or young person means that their grief is not being acknowledged and this can cause problems for them later on. They need to be informed that their loved one has died, how they died and where they are now. If the child wishes to ask questions about death and what this means, then answering truthfully and if the answer is not known then an assurance that you will look for the answer is what is needed.