Children And Grief

jordan-whitt-145327It would be great to think that no child would ever have to experience grief, but of course that’s not true. Children suffer losses just as adults do, and grieve in their own way.

Mary Andrews College understands that pastoral care is a deeply needed ministry in our society today and we want to give you the tools you need to help a child dealing with grief. Grief is individual, unavoidable, and takes as long as it takes. It is understood and expressed by children according to their age, level of maturity and the circumstances of the loss as well as the support they have around them.

There are as many ways to grieve as there are people, and the grieving style of an individual child should be respected. Some are noisy in their grief, overtly expressing it in words and actions while others grieve much more privately.

  • It is important to listen to a child who is grieving, and to reassure them that they are safe and loved. Often children don’t have the words to express their grief and so will act it out in various ways such as angry outbursts or clinging to or withdrawing from others around them. It helps if they have a sympathetic adult who will try to understand and can interpret their actions.
  • Children often grieve ‘in doses’ – they will grieve, then run off and play, then openly grieve again. This is normal. It has been said that “play is the work of childhood” and children will often act out their grief in their playtime.
  • It’s really important to be honest with children about what is going on. Trying to protect them by leaving them out of the loop or telling them untruths will only lead to complications later. Explain to them what is going on in words they can understand. Often what children fear is worse than the reality.
  • Grieving children experience a range of emotions, just as adults do – including sadness, anger, fear, guilt and many others. Expect and allow them all.
  • Many children feel they must be responsible for what has happened and need reassurance that it is not their fault.
  • Children need clear boundaries and a settled routine as much as possible. When an unthinkable loss has happened, it’s really important that other parts of life remain as consistent including the behaviour that is expected of them.
  • Give children a creative way to express their grief. Drawing, writing, modelling with clay can all be helpful. Remembering is aided by telling stories and memories, so do that when possible.
  • If you are supporting a grieving child while grieving yourself, the best way to care for them is to take care of your own grief. Seek support for yourself and for the child. And remember that people, including children, are remarkably resilient and it’s amazing what we do survive and grow through.

Resources Available
We run courses that help people understand the process of grief and how to help people who are grieving. We teach how to share the love of a God who weeps with them but also will one day take away the pain. Perhaps you would like to consider taking one of our units on grief or pastoral care to learn how to be equipped to come alongside those who are grieving.

If you are helping children deal with grief and loss here are some helpful organisations: