May 11, 2022
Over the past 25 years, I’ve spent time with hundreds of families in the most fragile and devastating of moments. Parents whose children were diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. Children facing life-altering diagnoses. Families forced to pivot at unexpected times. Households disrupted by death.
Naturally, each of these moments contributed to emotional distress and challenges coping with the difficulty of it all. At times, there was confusion regarding how the children in the household behaved and expressed themselves.
“____ just died. Why aren’t they crying?”
“It’s like nothing matters to them. What’s wrong?”
“They attended the funeral and saw ____. Why do they keep asking when he’s coming home?”
Let’s be honest. Wouldn’t life be a bit easier if children did respond like adults?
We adults wouldn’t have to wrestle with temper tantrums, challenges sharing with others, and other childish idiosyncrasies. Life might be a little simpler. However, this isn’t the reality, especially when it comes to grief and loss.
Here are a few developmental differences to consider:
Given these developmental differences, it’s not uncommon for children to experience confusion, seemingly make light of the death, have lots of questions, or not even believe their loved one is deceased.
Remember, it’s not one symptom that’s necessarily problematic, but a cluster of symptoms that are vastly different from the child’s behavior prior to experiencing loss.
As you walk through grief and loss with your child, it will be important to explore ways to promote safety and security. Death is naturally overwhelming and emotionally unsettling, and working to create routines and predictability will prove helpful in the short- and long-term. In addition, be sure to take steps to help yourself, including seeking grief support and accepting help from trusted friends and family.
Friend, navigating grief is complex. And walking alongside a child who’s grieving as well is complex.
As always, I welcome your thoughts.
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