A child will grieve in their own unique way. It will be different from how an adult grieves. Their reactions will depend on the nature of their loss.
As they get older and more mature, they will understand death better. They may need to revisit their grief again over the years.
After a loss, a child may experience the following:
- emotional responses such as fear, sadness, anxiety or anger
- physical responses such as low energy interrupted sleep or changed eating patterns
- behavioural responses such as lack of concentration, memory loss or aggression
- social responses such as loss of self-esteem, withdrawal from friends, activities or school
A child could need specialised help if they experience the following:
- persistent anxiety
- persistent longing for the deceased
- ongoing aggression
- social withdrawal, lack of interest in friends and activities
- self-blame or guilt about the death
- self-destructive behaviour
- a desire to hurt themselves or to be with the person who has died
Talk about the loss
It can help a child to talk about the person who has died. Sharing and talking about emotions is important, especially for children.
It's good for them to have someone to talk to about their loved one. You could do this using photos, games, memory boxes or stories.
Talk to them using language they'll understand. Be sensitive. A death can be upsetting for a child. But talking about it can help them to understand what has happened.
More information and support
The Irish Childhood Bereavement Network provides information on children and loss. You can read about how to talk with children of all ages, about death on their website.
Barnardos, the children's charity, have a service to help children deal with loss.