The grieving process for children can look very different from the way adults grieve. For example, a teen who has just lost his father may continue playing video games with his friends as if nothing has happened. This behavior can frustrate and worry his mother. Is his behavior healthy? Should he not be crying and acting depressed?
In some ways, coping mechanisms for grief are healthy. Each person responds differently to the loss of a loved one. Children and teens go through the grieving process but can get stuck in one of the five stages of grief or repeatedly cycle back through the stages. Sometimes they need help and support to move through the process and begin healing.
How do children react to grief?
The grieving process consists of five stages:
- Denial or shock
There is no set time for how long one person may stay in a particular stage. A child may cycle through the stages very quickly or get hung up in a specific stage, such as anger or depression.
The depression from grief differs from the type children and teens may experience with clinical depression. Depression from grief centers on the loss and seems to come in waves, while clinical depression is a persistent sadness that centers on the person or their fears for the future.
Teens are at an age where they may be curious about death and accepting about the loss of a loved one. This is an age where they begin to question mortality, and the death of a loved one makes it a reality for them. However, this reality is also scary for them.
Even if they believe in God and Heaven, they do not feel ready, and thinking about the loss of a loved one (especially if it was sudden or someone close to their own age) can cause teens to become stuck in the grieving process or afraid that they will soon die.
Signs of the Grieving Process in Teens
The following are common signs and behaviors of a teen in the grieving process.
Easily distracted. The child may be unable to concentrate or focus.
Lash out at others. The teen seems to snap easily and has trouble controlling his anger.
Use humor or pranks to mask the pain. Some teens use humor to lighten the mood and take the focus away from them.
Unexplained stomachaches or headaches. Frequent aches and pains can suddenly appear.
Frequent nightmares or dreams about the person they lost. A teen’s mind may obsess over their lost loved one resulting in nightmares.
Gets into trouble at school. The teen may start fights or become confrontational with teachers and peers.
Spends more time with friends. Teens often grieve in their own way, surrounded by friends instead of family.
Turns to substance abuse to cope. A teen may try to drown his emotions with illegal substances, alcohol, or prescription drugs.
Engages in risky behaviors. Teens may engage in behaviors like shoplifting or unprotected sex.
Becomes isolated and withdrawn. A grieving teen may hide out in his room most of the time.
These are only a few of the common signs of grief in teens. Contact a counselor to discuss additional behaviors.
Depending on the child’s age, he may or may not understand the absence of a loved one. Young children may still expect the missing person to come home. Children also turn their attention quickly onto something else. They may feel the loss and the pain but still play with their friends.
Signs of the Grieving Process in Children
The following are common signs and behaviors of a child in the grieving process.
Displays anxiety surrounding the loss. A child may become anxious when thinking about his loved one or being alone.
Begs to stay with parent or guardian. The child may throw tantrums or cry when a parent or guardian tries to leave him at school or with a caretaker.
Unusually quiet. The child may become unusually quiet and withdrawn.
May act out at school and home. A child who does not know how to process emotions may lash out at other classmates or teachers.
May have appetite or weight changes. The child may eat more or very little and have rapid weight changes.
Begins to regress. A grieving child may regress by bedwetting, sucking his thumb, or refusing to sleep alone.
Similar to the list of common signs in teens, this is not an all-inclusive list of signs and behaviors in children. Contact a counselor to discuss additional behaviors in children, especially for children younger than two-years-old.
Is your child struggling with grief?
If your child or teen is struggling with the grieving process, contact our office today to schedule a session with a counselor. Your counselor will work with your family to support your child as they grieve the loss of a loved one.
You do not have to go through this alone. Grief is hard enough. Let us help your child learn how to manage his emotions in a healthy manner.
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