Everyone deals with grief differently, and children are no exception. Depending on the child - and the closeness of the loved one who passed away - the expression of this pain may be blatant, such as through tantrums or other negative behavior, or something more subtle. But no matter how it's communicated, the child has been through a traumatic event, and that experience can take its toll.
If you work with children, there will undoubtedly be one who loses a close relative at some point in your career. Our online early childcare training can help you navigate these emotional situations.
A child's grieving process
Grief can impact even your youngest charges. Children who are preschool age or younger may not understand that their loved ones are gone, but that doesn't mean they aren't affected. According to Mila Ruiz Tecala, LICSW, of the Center for Loss and Grief, children are impacted by loss even during the earliest months of life.
"That attitude is a disservice to children since it deprives them of the ability to grieve," Tecala told Social Work Today. "[Losing a primary caregiver] leads inevitably to changes in the daily routine that can create uncertainty and instability in the child's life."
Research increasingly suggests that the way children grieve is similar to that of adults. However, younger mourners appear to be better at distracting themselves from their pain and temporarily forgetting the loss.
Younger children may not fully understand their loss, but will experience a variety of emotions nonetheless.
"Kids often grieve in spurts because they can't seem to tolerate grief for long periods of time," Susan Thomas, LCSW-R, FT, program director for the Center for H.O.P.E. told Social Work Today. "[Adults] have one foot in grief and one foot on the outside, but kids jump in and out of grief."
Common behavior of children dealing with grief
While every child's grief is expressed differently, there are some common behaviors seen in younger charges who have suffered recent losses. According to Mental Health America, common signs of grieving in children and adolescents include the following:
Louder than normal play.
A drop in performance at school or refusal to participate in class.
Fear of being alone.
Creation of games about death or dying.
Irritability or loss of concentration.
Loss of interest in activities.
Deep emotional reactions, such as anxiety attacks.
Feelings of confusion or anger.
Physical complaints, such as stomachaches.
Recognizing these signs can help you to better understand where children are in dealing with their losses. The MHA recommends giving children opportunities to talk about their feelings and then validating the emotions they share. Be patient, even if what is shared becomes repetitive. This is a normal part of the process.
Younger children might find it easier to draw rather than verbally communicate their feelings, according to Recover from Grief, so make sure that you have crayons and paper on hand.
To learn more about helping children deal with grief, take ProSolutions Training online child care course, titled Helping Children Cope with Death. And if you're interested in pursuing or renewing your CDA ProSolutions offers courses to maintain your ongoing education. For more information call us today at You can reach us by phone at 770.642.6939 or 800.939.9694, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.