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How a Child’s Grief May Affect Your Own

How we grieve as parents is often a reflection of how our own children are grieving. If you have recently lost your parent, for instance, how your child reacts to their grandparent’s passing may affect how you deal with the situation yourself. Kids are often very resilient in the face of loss, but other times they take it much harder than anyone could have anticipated. How they see you react may provide the mirror for the grief they feel, but sometimes it works in the opposite way. Bereavement services in Alameda County and elsewhere can certainly help both adults and children cope with these situations.

November is National Children’s Grief Awareness Month, a time to become more aware of the needs of grieving children, and how they can benefit tremendously from the support of others. That support can come from parents and siblings, grandparents, other family members, friends, and members of the community, along with grief counseling and support groups.

How Kids Deal With Loss

When a beloved family member dies, children often react a bit differently than adults. Preschool children, for instance, view death as temporary and reversible, reinforced by cartoon and video game characters who die and then come to life again, points out the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Children between the ages of five and nine start to resemble adults’ thinking about death, but they still don’t really believe it can happen to them or people they know. As they get older, they will increasingly realize that death is an inevitable part of life and may even become worried about their own health and safety.

Teenagers 13+ understand that death is a part of life, but in terms of development, they are going through big physical and emotional changes and may toggle back and forth between reactions common to younger kids offset by adult reactions, says KidsHealth. They may be reluctant to seek support because they are trying to assert their independence at the same time.

But no matter what age a child is, their shock and confusion at the death of a loved one, whether a parent, grandparent, or sibling, can be compounded by the unavailability and emotional distance of other family members who could be so shaken by grief that they simply can’t cope with caring for their children or worrying about anything but their own grief. This is a mistake, of course, but as we go through the grieving process for someone who was so near and dear to us, sometimes others take a back burner.

How Children’s Grief Impacts Ours

Children are most certainly affected by the way their parents grieve, and vice versa. Let’s say you have recently lost your mom to cancer. This is very devastating for you as the surviving child, but you may find yourself altering the way you grieve when interacting with your own children. If they are very young, you may be inclined not to show too much emotion so as not to scare them. You may process grief on your own time, in the confines of your own room, or when with your spouse or siblings who are also going through that same degree of loss.

If you have teens, you may react a bit differently, taking solace in their comfort rather than shying away from it. No matter what age they are, though, children and teens look to their parents for cues on how they should react to the events that shape their lives. Don’t worry that they’ll be damaged by seeing the raw grief on your face. As long as their basic needs are still being met and they feel secure, you shouldn’t feel guilty about expressing your intense feelings of grief.

In fact, witnessing the manifestation of those feelings gives your child permission to express and explore their own emotions, says the American Cancer Society. If you try too hard to suppress your feelings around them, they may have trouble opening up about their own feelings. Even worse, you could be setting them up for a lifetime of failing to show anger, sadness, and frustration anytime they experience loss. These are all normal reactions, and to see you expressing them freely will give them the green light they need to become healthy adults with healthy grieving processes.

In the end, it’s important to encourage feelings of grief when losing a loved one, and it works both ways. Take comfort from your children when they offer it. Don’t shy away from it. Lean into it. Then, they will feel comfortable going to you with their own grief.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

Here at Pathways, we do all we can to support grieving children who have recently lost a loved one in our hospice program or elsewhere. We want them to know they’re not alone, and that their unique grieving process can and should be recognized. To learn more, contact us at 888-978-1306.