Nobody wants to see a child suffer. We would do anything to prevent children from experiencing the pain of loss. Unfortunately, that’s impossible! The reality is that children, even if you shelter and protect them, will experience loss and they will feel sad. Isn’t it better to give them the tools to reconcile grief so they have the coping mechanisms needed to face life head on? I think so.
Children cannot be fooled. They know when something is wrong or when something bad has happened. Not discussing it with them, doesn’t make it go away. Allowing them to see you cry because your heart is broken is not weak or shameful. Letting them know that they are safe in the midst of chaos and that you will get through this together… is a gift.
Children are strong and they will give you strength. More importantly, children have a “natural rhythm to their grief.” Children allow themselves to feel the pain and sadness and when it becomes too much for them they shut it off for a while and go play. Children will cry and express their sorrow one minute, and the next minute they will ask if their best friend can come for pizza and a sleepover. They inherently understand the need to “pace” their grief. We would all fare better if we allowed ourselves to grieve like a child.
Children experience the same potential responses to grief that an adult does: Confusion, sadness, sleep and eating disruptions, and tears etc. They are also at risk of negative consequences, just as an adult is, if they are not given a safe place to do the work of mourning. A child may not be able to verbalize what is going on for them so watch for signs of regression (e.g. a child who is potty-trained now has accidents), acting-out (e.g. outbursts) and eating/sleep disturbances; these are all signs that a child is struggling with inner turmoil.