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Let’s talk about grief in children and therapies

It is common to hear that children are not able to understand the loss of a loved one or even that they do not perceive it, however, that is far from what can really happen.

Sadly, the current pandemic has brought both adults and children to be more familiar with death or we have even faced helping children and youth cope with the death of a loved one. In this article, I will talk about how children manifest grief and how we can help them in their grieving process.

How does grief manifest in children?

First, we must recognize that in the face of a loss it is normal for the child to experience different emotions and have different ways of expressing them.

For example, with the little ones, this can manifest as irritability, tantrums, being afraid of abandonment or difficulties with the control of sphincters; while with older children they begin to be curious or ask more direct questions about death, and some begin to have a phobia or intense fear towards the subject.

That is why we must provide them with a safe space in which they are able to talk, experience and understand their emotions, either from home or preferably with a specialist.

Helping Children Cope with Grief

When working on grief in children from psychology, it is preferable that it is done through play and taking into account the interests or tastes of the child. Some points that psychologists who work on bereavement with children or families interested in the subject should consider are:

  • Always speak frankly, using simple and direct language. It is advisable to tell them that that person died and how the family feels about it, avoiding phrases like “he went to heaven … God took him away,” etc.
  • Allowing you to express your emotions and thoughts without being judged, encouraging the child to talk about death and what he thinks about it.
  • If the child has difficulty speaking, he or she may be asked to write or journal how he or she feels, his thoughts, people are by his/her side supporting him, or his concerns.
  • Incorporate the little ones in most of the rituals related to the death of a close person, as long as he wished. We must bear in mind that the child is likely to have an interest or curiosity for rituals that are done, whether at the funeral, burial or religious rites, so our task is to explain what they consist of or the beliefs of the family.
  • However, there may be children who do not want to participate and we must respect their decision.
  • Try to return to everyday life, avoiding acting as if the loss had not occurred.

Finally, we must not forget that grief in the face of a loss is something that happens to all of us, so each child, adolescent and adult lives it and manifests it in a different way. When grief stagnates in any of its phases and generates significant difficulties in areas such as the child’s behavior, family or school life, it is always advisable to attend with a specialist in order to generate new strategies to face it as a family.

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