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A grieving child

Children commonly experience grief following the loss of something or someone important in their life. It is often difficult for parents to know how to deal with a child in grief since they are often dealing with their own loss at the same time. But there are practical things parents can do to help their children work through grief.

Although grief is a normal reaction to loss, people grieve differently. While children’s grief reactions differ in many ways to adults, under the surface, people of all ages tend to move through similar stages as they deal with their loss.

Children may:
Confuse the cause of the loss
Believe that the situation is reversible
Be more prone to denial
Use fantasy to cope with their feelings
Listen intently and watch others’ reactions
Ask lots of questions
Re-enact parts of the event in their play
Fill in the gaps with their imagination
Need repeated explanations
Hang onto the belief that the loss has not occurred (for example, believe a person is still alive or that divorced parents will reunite).

Seven tips for helping a grieving child:

Reassure the child of their own safety (and the safety of other family members) as soon as possible after the child learns of the loss.
Return to daily routine and regular parenting patterns as soon as possible.
Talk to the child about death or loss in general and about the nature of their personal loss.
Use language suitable for their age to help them understanding their situation fully.
Allow and encourage them to play out the situation or feelings with imaginary friends, dolls, or other objects.
When a new member is added to the family, accept that a child often finds it difficult to form new attachments and may try to keep their loyalty to the lost person.

Remember that children may return to previous stages of grief that were thought to be resolved. This may occur around times of transition such as when the child begins school or a new sibling arrives. A child needs to be encouraged to work through these unresolved stages through talking, drawing, and play.

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