Grief and Loss
Factors that may affect the grieving process
Was the death anticipated or sudden?
Generally speaking, grief lasts longer in cases of sudden death.
How close was the child to the deceased?
The closer the relationship, the longer the grief will last.
General Guidelines for helping children work through the grief process
Give them opportunities for expression.
The emotions that follow the trauma of a death may be new to them, and they may not have
the words to describe them. Encourage them to draw, paint, and write letters, take
photographs, make collages, write songs, and write poems…whatever they choose.
Keep them physically active.
Offer grieving children many opportunities to participate in physical activities and encourage
them to be involved. Staying physically active can combat the effects of depression.
Read a book together.
Reading books together can be therapeutic. There are many books available to children that
provide information about grief and about grieving. Don’t pass up this opportunity for
Find a support group.
Children often interact better with other children that they do with adults. Many mental
health clinics, hospitals, and social service agencies sponsor support groups for children
who have suffered the loss of a friend or loved one. Children learn that they are not alone,
they are not “different,” and it is okay to talk about what they are going through. (See
Community Resources List)
Know when to seek professional help. Here are some indications that
professional help may be necessary:
o Excessive and prolonged periods of crying
o Frequent and prolonged temper tantrums
o Extreme changes in behavior
o Noticeable changes in school performance and grades
o Withdrawal for long periods of time
o Lack of interest in friends and activities they used to enjoy
o Frequent nightmares and sleep disturbances
o Frequent headaches and or other physical complaints
o Noticeable weight loss or gain
o Apathy, numbness, and a general lack of interest in life
o Prolonged negative thinking about the future, or lack on interest in the future.
General guidelines for helping children move on with life
Be patient but firm:
o Children may cry, get angry, ask questions and express insecurities and
frustration, and parents will need to be patient with children during this time.
o Children still need limits during this time, especially when their emotions are in
turmoil and their lives appear to be upside down. If they act out, refuse to do
school work, avoid responsibility etc, they need to know these behaviors are not
Promote positive self-esteem:
o Try to work on promoting your child’s self esteem through compliments and
praise, every opportunity you get. (Show interest in school work, outside
activities and friends.)
o Listen when they talk, and give them individual attention when they need it (as
often as you can.)
o Display your love openly to them, and tell them how proud you are of them.
Provide encouragement and direction:
o Children may withdraw into inaction as a way to protect themselves. After
loosing a loved one, they may feel despair and that nothing matters. They also
may feel as if the future is uncertain and unpredictable.
o Encourage your children to play and participate in activities they enjoy.
o This empowers children and gives them a sense of control again. Giving your
children options and letting them decide when they are going to do certain
things, within reason, they are able to gain a sense of control again.
Teach problem-solving skills:
o Teaching these skills helps to reduce anxiety and promote self-esteem.
o Presenting children with hypothetical dilemmas, and having them brainstorm
and evaluate possible solutions is helpful.
o Let your children know that you are still a family.
o Explain to them that working together to overcome grief as a family is better and
more productive than an individual doing it on their own.
Give them permission to be happy again:
o Children who are mourning a loss need permission to be happy again.
o They need to know it is okay to play, laugh, learn and love again.
o Children will model what they see and the behavior of an adult caregiver during
these times, so try to set good examples.
Normal Grief Reactions: All Ages
Not being able to communicate with my parents.
How should I act?
I’m so glad it’s over.
I feel as if it isn’t real.
My mood changes over the slightest things.
Sometimes I feel angry.
I don’t want others to see me when I feel sad.
I have trouble focusing on school work.
I sense my loved one’s presence.
I have trouble sleeping.
I have an empty feeling.
I feel confused.
I feel afraid.
I feel sad and depressed.
Hostility towards deceased or toward others
Assumption of mannerisms of deceased
Idealization of deceased
Guilt and regret
Difficulty concentrating in school & activities, poor grades or decline in grades
My friends at school don’t know what I’m feeling.
I forget the person died.
Denial and possible risk taking behavior (i.e. promiscuity, substance use).
These are natural, normal grief responses. It is important to reach out and talk with
people, and to cry when you need to.
When to refer for individual counseling:
There are some bereaved children whose needs will be met more effectively in
individual counseling or therapy. The following “red flags” should alert you to the
need for making an appropriate referral. Many of these behaviors are normal grief
responses. What makes them “red flags” is a matter of degree.
Total denial of the reality of the death
Persistent panic or fear
Prolonged physical complaints
Prolonged feelings of guilt or responsibility for the death
Chronic patters of apathy and/or depression
Chronic hostility, acting out toward others or self
Prolonged change in typical behavior or personality
Consistent withdrawal from friends and family
Dramatic, ongoing changes in sleeping and eating patterns
Suicidal ideation or actions
Drug or alcohol abuse