Dr. Gloria Horsley connects with Andy McNiel at the National Alliance for Grieving Children conference. Giving children space to grieve after a loss is critical, although many adult caregivers push children to grieve in a way they see fit—which is usually how adults more often heal. Children heal and grieve in bursts and might not be fond of talking. They might communicate via play, sports, music, or by talking in very comfortable surroundings. Don’t assume that a child isn’t grieving just because they’re not talking to you, their parent (or don’t seem to be talking at all!).
However, if a child’s behavior becomes troublesome or dangerous, then it’s time to intervene. If a child’s grades start slipping, you suspect self-harm, harming of others, drug or alcohol abuse, or a severe and seemingly permanent shift in their personality, they might need professional help working through their grief. Otherwise, know that just like adults, some children need more space to grieve than others.
Different Grieving Styles
A lot of children don’t want to further burden their parents and try to protect them. They do so by keeping quiet, and perhaps talking to their friends instead of adults about their feelings. Alternatively, they might pour their emotions into a favorite hobby. Keep an eye on the child, let them know you’re available to listen, but otherwise let them drive their grief. They often know what they need more so than an adult, and will find their own avenues to healing.
Children are tenacious, but also work through grief in a different way and on a different timeline than adults. Let them find their own self-soothing techniques, and practice good grieving in front of them. Hiding your own grief can confuse children, and further their desire to protect you.