Supporting Children Through Grief

by MJ Fisher

B. Soc. Sc.; GradDip Teaching; Dip. Care and Ed.

Grief can be a difficult for time, especially when adults are trying to juggle their own emotions and support children through grief and loss simultaneously. Making matters worse, grief is not a process that can be rushed or swept under the carpet. It is an event which can and often does trigger strong emotional reactions, ones which can disrupt family life.  Being able to understand the grieving process for children can help make rough waters feel smoother and allow adults to feel as though they can be as supportive as possible. Therefore, the purpose of this article is two-fold.  Firstly to provide insight into what the grieving process might look like for children and secondly to provide some strategies to support children in these times.

What is grief?

Grief is defined by the loss of something or someone.  In the event of loss strong emotional reactions trigger behaviours that are not typically present, for example, anger, numbness, withdrawal and repeated episodes of sadness.  Despite cultural background, grief touches all humans, although the reactions to grief can vary depending on beliefs and the grieving process undertaken by families and/or communities. 

Grief is not necessarily defined by the loss of a loved one.  Instead, other things can trigger grief and loss reactions, for example, the loss of a pet, a change of schools or home, the loss of a parent (in situations of divorce), friendship rifts, the birth of a new sibling, or the loss of a toy or activity.  This list is not exhaustive.  Regardless of the apparent significance of a loss, children can react in ways that may seem disproportionate to the actual loss.  Nevertheless, children’s grief reactions are real and a grieving process must be undertaken in order for them to find acceptance and move on.

Typical signs of grief

Children can have many adverse reactions when going through the grieving process. Typically grief brings...