When a loved one passes away, we all experience grief differently. Children in particular, process and display such emotions differently as compared to adults. Even if your child seems aloof, they may be trying to process their understanding of death in their own way.
How do children exhibit grief?
Younger children in particular may not understand the permanence of death, which is why they may not be able to express their grief like one would expect. If you are looking for tell-tale signs, here are a few –
A child who is grieving the death of a loved one may become extra clingy, especially with their parents and teachers. This child may ask for help to do things they once had no trouble doing on their own. Children are able to sense distress in their parents and guardians, which is why they may feel safe by becoming more attached to them.
A pre-school or school-age child may find it hard to focus on their academics or any of their normal activities. They may even showcase indecisiveness because their minds are not yet adjusted to the loss of a loved one.
Young children can become quite paranoid, especially once they realize that the deceased person will not be returning. These children will need constant reassurance that their loved ones will remain close to them.
The child may want to sleep with their parents more than often as they may be experiencing nightmares that come from their paranoid thoughts when they are awake.
Sometimes children will feel like it was their actions or a simple ‘go away’ they said to a person that led them to their death. Children need to be told that they are not at all responsible for the incident, and constantly need to be reassured of the same.
Look out for other signs such as developmental regression, behavioral changes, and feelings of abandonment. Seek the help of a child specialist in order to guide your child to the path of recovery.
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Death can be challenging to grasp fully, even for adults. So one can only imagine what losing a loved one must be like for children. Whatever their experience may be, one thing to remember is that like everyone who has lost a loved one, kids will need support also.
To be able to provide them with the support they need during a difficult time, you must understand how children grieve.
Babies and toddlers
If a parent or a caregiver has died, small babies and toddlers, while not being able to understand what is happening, definitely sense their absence. This can result in them often looking for the person who has passed, crying and throwing tantrums, or becoming quiet and less active. They may become clingy and express this through being irritable, crying, or wanting to be held.
It is essential to accommodate babies with warmth and love during such times. Try to keep their day as normal as possible, and sometimes, providing comfort items such as special blankets or toys may help.
Children around the age of 4 to 12 years old often express their grief through behavioral changes, such as becoming more passive and quieter. They may act out and throw tantrums. Their eating and sleeping habits may change, and often, they may experience regression in their developmental progress. For instance, they may wet their beds, or they may start crawling again.
It’s usually best to talk to kids openly and calmly about death so they may understand the reality of it. It is also crucial that you let them know they are safe and loved, and that you are there for them anytime.
Teens who have lost a loved one deal with death in different ways. They understand the concept of death, and while some may handle it well, others may be profoundly affected, which is evident through changes in behavior. Usually, they seek support from close friends. They may try to hide their pain, which is why it is all the more important for them to receive support and attention.
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A common question among family members is whether they should bring their children to a funeral. You might be struggling with this issue. The decision being made depends on the age and maturity of the child being considered. For example, you might not put young ones in a situation that can become a traumatic experience.
Why should children attend funerals?
Children should be allowed to attend a funeral or burial because these types of events are crucial family rituals which teach them about the concept of life and death. If the deceased is someone they know, it gives them the chance to say goodbye.
At the same time, you should never try to force a child to attend a funeral . Always make it a point to give them the option and if they say no, try to delve deeper to find out the reasons as to why they don’t want to be a part of this event. If there are questions or fears, you should address them, helping them overcome these obstacles.
Preparation is key
As the adult, you need to make sure your child knows what is going to happen at the funeral, especially when it is his or her first time. Talk about how the room is going to be set, what kind of behavior is expected, even the appearance of the deceased if there is going to be an open casket.
Your child should know that certain individuals at the funeral are going to cry because they miss the person. Let your child know that it is okay to cry or not to cry at the funeral. At the same time, there will be some people who laugh or smile as they recall the memories shared with the deceased.
Be sure to pay extra attention to your child during this type of event. You don’t want your child to feel like he or she is forgotten or you are neglecting his or her needs.
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Death is something that even adults find difficult to process. It’s something that you can never prepare yourself for, no matter how many loved ones you have lost. If it’s so delicate and confusing even for adults, imagine how it must be for children.
It’s no wonder that children often have so many questions about death, and often, these are questions that are difficult to answer. To help you out, here are some of the most common questions that kids have about death and how to answer them.
Why do people die?
One of the most common questions is the why of it all. When a child asks you this, it is essential to be straightforward and factual without complicating things. Let them know that people die because of accidents, illnesses or because of old age. Make sure that they know their thoughts and actions have nothing to do with the person’s death.
Where do we go when we die?
The answer to this question depends on your cultural views. If you are someone who is religious or you want your children to grow up with a religious background, tell them your religion’s belief on death and the afterlife. If you are not particularly religious and you aren’t sure of the answer, there is no harm in being honest.
Will I die too?
It’s common for children to ask if they too will die. You must be honest with them, but remember to explain gently and in terms that kids will understand. Tell them that at some point, all of us will die and even though it can be difficult to understand, death is natural.
Will I see the person who died again?
The answer to this depends on your answer to the question about where we go after we die. For instance, if you are Christian, you can tell them that they will see them again when they go to heaven.
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Most parents are overprotective when it comes to bringing their children to terms with the idea of death. But that doesn’t mean that children should be left out of the last rites of a beloved family member and be expected to learn to handle their emotions on their own as they grow older.
It is crucial that parents educate their children about the concept of death at an early age. Teaching them gradually about the physical and emotional aspects of death will enable them to handle their grief better, even as adults later in life. It also makes them feel involved and responsible.
When attending a funeral service, the child must know the etiquette that he or she is expected to follow. Teaching a child to be respectful at a funeral is very important, not just for that particular day but also for molding the child’s personality as an empathetic individual.
Talk to your child about what to expect at a funeral. If your child has never been to one, he or she may not know what exactly happens at a funeral service. It is essential that children know who will be in attendance and what events will be held during the service. Taking them to a funeral without any prior knowledge may be a little overwhelming for children.
Once they know what to expect, discuss what is expected of them at the funeral. Tell them how they're supposed to dress for it and how they're meant to behave. Tell them that they should not be loud while talking and shouldn't run around the place. Teach them to be respectful to the deceased and the family as well.
More importantly, set an example for your children by showing them how to behave appropriately since children learn better by following your lead rather than instructions.
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