When I was six and 10-years-old, my grandparents died. They were some of the most important people to me. I couldn’t properly comprehend the whole thing. I wasn’t even really consoled after my grandfather died because, “I was too young to understand.” I didn’t feel comfortable enough to talk about my feelings, and let alone know how. These feelings of grief are still hitting me hard now, as I begin to hit important milestones without them being there to experience it with me.
Grief is hard on everyone despite their age. Young children (around ages 6 to 10) in particular, though, grieve more harshly, and cope with it differently. Without support, experiencing grief can be even harder. It is crucial to understand how children deal with grief and how to help them through it. Improper coping mechanisms can lead to issues in adult life, like low-grade depression and addictive behaviors.
When given the news of a loved one’s death, a child may not react at all. It may take them a while to process the news. Children grieve in cycles, and can revisit their grief at significant milestones. For example, while winning a big game, they may think to themselves, “I wish grandpa was here.” A child can swing quickly between grieving and living their normal lives. The Marie Curie website describes this as “puddle jumping,” the puddle representing a child’s feeling of grief.
Susan Thomas, the program director of the Center for H.O.P.E. at Cohen’s Children’s Medical Center, states, “Kids are masters at being able to distract themselves and focus on other things, but when something happens, all of the emotion they’ve been pushing away comes back.” This allows them to handle the intensity of grieving. A child’s grief will last longer than that of an adult. Children cannot even properly come to terms with the loss of a loved one until their mid-20s.
A child’s grief may not outwardly appear as grief, but will show as changes in behavior. These changes in behavior could include withdrawal from others, anxiety, anger issues, and regression. Lack of concentration, sleep problems, and school troubles are problems that a child who is grieving will face.
Adults often want to protect children by withholding information, but this could actually hurt them. Children are likely to notice if something is wrong. It will make them feel anxious and confused if they aren’t told the truth. They will be left to grieve on their own. Adults should be upfront about death, and allow the child to be comfortable enough to express their emotions.
Children may not be comfortable with verbalizing their grief because they take cues from adults.
Saying things like, “You need to be strong for grandma,” even though that may be in good faith, can be harmful for a child. They will infer that talking about the death is wrong and hurtful and it will only cause more sadness.
For a child to deal with grief, they have to be able to absorb and adapt to the fact that someone died and that they will not be seen again. Social workers can be a huge help in situations like this. Though, if a child is not comfortable with this, there are other ways to help them.
An adult can give a child a small role in the process after a loved one dies, like picking out pictures or reading a poem at the memorial service. Encourage the child to write out their thoughts and emotions after a loved one’s death. Don’t avoid mentioning the person who died.
Recalling and sharing happy memories helps to heal grief and activate positive emotions. Above all, create a comfortable enough environment to allow your child to share their feelings, and let them know that it is okay to grieve.
I wanted to provide a quick update for those wondering about the medical news out of China. Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that affect the respiratory system. There are now seven known coronaviruses.
One of these viruses is the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) Virus. In 2002-2003, it affected 8,098 people. Of those, 774 died. It jumped from civets to humans.
Another is the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) Virus. In 2012, it affected 2,494 people. Of those, 858 died. It jumped from camels to humans.
As of this writing, the current virus has infected 600 people with 17 deaths. We do not yet know which animal it jumped from. The good news is the mortality rate is not yet as high as the others.
The other good news is that both of the other epidemics were limited to less than 10,000 patients.
Gianna (Gigi) Voges is a sophomore at Sussex Academy. She is doing a Seaford Star internship with Dr. Anthony Policastro with an eye on journalism as a college major. This is the first of a series of articles that she will be writing. Please provide Dr. Policastro with any feedback at email@example.com.