Understanding the grieving process, what to watch for and how you can help
When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. Kahlil Gibran
When we experience loss, we feel grief and a depth of emotion that seems to relate directly to the amount of love, joy and pleasure we have received during our lifetime. From the moment of birth we experience degrees of loss.
- Loss of the comfort ,warmth and security of the womb
- Separation from our parents when staring nursery or kindergarten
- Loss brought about by a change of circumstances, a house move or change of school
- Loss experienced following the death of a family member or friend.
So all children experience some degree of loss during their childhood. The grieving process represents a natural range of emotions that form an intrinsic part of growing up. Loss felt, results in varying degrees of grief according to the child’s personality and individual circumstances. The grieving process is a form of emotional healing that occurs in four distinct stages.
Shock and disbelief: This occurs when a child’s view of their world is shaken. Children often feel numb and strangely calm, even apathetic. This apathy is a form of defense that enables a child to cope. Occasionally shock can take on the form of anger.
Denial: This happens within two weeks of the incident and varies in duration form minutes to weeks. A child will appear to experience life in a calm way as if nothing has happened. this can be disconcerting but for children the process of fully coming to terms with something so profound to them can take time.
Growing Awareness: Emotion when it arrives can come in waves amd can often feel very strong and overwhelming. Feelings of loss, anger, guilt and even panic are common.
Acceptance: This usually occurs about two years after a death, a major separation and loss.
Children can find themselves ‘stuck’ in one of these stages and will need gentle support and guidance to move forward with their grieving process, these blocks occur in several forms and for several reasons:
- Refusing to let go and experience the loss
- Refusing to believe it
- Not being allowed to attend the funeral
- Experiencing several losses and not having the time to grief each one
- Thoughts and feelings left unsaid
- Parents grieving so the child feels they cannot
- Adult disapproval or dismissal of emotion and the ‘there-there’ approach
There are several patterns of behaviours that arise in children who have ‘stumbled’ in the grieving process and require more support and observation:
- Most children, like adults fear anger so often feel unable to express it, but anger has its place in human emotion and if held and allowed to come to the surface anger can be a profound part of the healing process. If left unchecked it can manifest in rage and guilt.
- Aggressive behaviour develops from feelings of hopelessness that are frequently experienced in the early stages of loss. A child will become hostile towards the adults around them and aggressive to other children. In most cases this pattern of behaviour changes, as the child moves through the 4 stages of grief.
The grieving process in children can be supported and helped along considerably by:
- Ensuring you are available to the needs of the child with affection and warmth
- Sharing your emotions, thoughts and feelings on the loss, so the child feels less isolated in their grief.
- Listening to the child and mirroring the child’s feelings, so as to help them bring clarity to their emotions.
- Not pushing it, only share feelings when the child is ready.
- Informing teachers and other adults in the child’s life about their loss, should inappropriate or regressive behaviours in the child become manifest.
Oh heart, if one should say to you that the soul perishes like the body, answer that the flower withers, but the seed remains. Kahlil Gibran
How are you dealing with your child’s sense of loss and what steps have you taken to help them with their grieving process?
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About the Author (Author Profile)
Rebecca Watkins worked as a professional photo journalist and travelled the world with her husband John, before settling down as a stay at home mother to their three daughters. They have recently moved back from the French Alps to an old cottage in Devon, England. Rebecca’s days are filled with visits to the beach, animated discussions and in the best moments, happiness and creativity in her family home of five. The other moments are filled with craziness and chaos and she loves those too.