Grief and Young People
Loss is something we feel when we become separated from someone or something we care a lot about.
Understanding death is different for various ages, even small babies can show signs of distress when their primary caregiver is no longer there.
Young children don't have the concept that death is permanent and it's not until they reach 4 – 8 years that this awareness develops. They are also literal in their thinking so to say that someone has 'gone to sleep' adds to confusion and fear.
'Magical Thinking' can give a sense of looking for a reason for the death. Could they have done something to prevent it or did they cause it.
Adolescents often have other insecurities and a death, be it family or a friend, can confuse this difficult time even more. They can become detached or withdraw perhaps from family or their wider friendship group. Their ways of coping may often seem uncaring or the opposite as they try to take on too many new responsibilities.
The impact of grief can affect children in different ways...
Emotions/Feelings:- sadness, anger, guilt, numbness, mood swings, fear.
Physically:- sleep problems, tiredness, loss of appetite, tummy upsets, nightmares, vulnerable to infections.
Social:- avoiding others, wanting more support, not wanting to be different to their peers,
Thoughts:- concentration, forgetfulness, memories, questioning... why?, reliving the death, wanting to be with the loved one, sometimes suicidal thoughts.
Behaviours:- being clingy, crying, being difficult, avoiding places that act as reminders, alcohol intake.
Academic:- poor concentration, lack of motivation, disorganisation, truanting or refusal to go school.
Young people are resilient if they are given age appropriate, simple information which may need repeating.
Being allowed to share their feelings and be listened to – answering their questions honestly.
Given choices i.e. attending funeral, viewing the body.
Reassurance – they or others are not about to die.
It's also ok to see others upset. Seeing adults cry gives the young person permission to cry.
How can counselling help?
Children and young people often don't know how to articulate their grief. Feelings and thoughts are difficult to manage perhaps they are in the middle of a lesson at school and want to cry.
If it's a family death they don't want to upset others even more by saying how they feel. Talking to a counsellor can give them a space to talk through their worries and fears and understand that whatever they are feeling is ok and normal.
For more information: