Losing somebody is one of the hardest things that can happen to us. It’s no easier for younger people to deal with grief. It can be difficult to know how to try and help them.
People deal with loss in different ways. There are many factors influencing someone’s experience of grief. This is no different for children or younger people.
Younger children might not understand that the person is not coming back. Older children might understand this but may not understand why.
The type of relationship they had with the person can impact the experience. They might not fully understand what they’ve lost until they’re a bit older.
Previous losses or trauma they’ve experienced may come back to them.
Men and women may have different ways of dealing with what’s going on. Men often keep their feelings inside and seem like they’re handling everything. Women can do that too, but might be more likely to talk about what’s happening and acknowledge their emotions.
There are five stages of grief, although it should be noted that not everyone experiences all five or in the following order. People may also spend more time on one stage than another and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Experiencing shock when someone dies is completely normal and is often accompanied by a sense of disbelief. People can also react in ways that seem strange, like laughing hysterically. But, it’s just a reaction and not something to be alarmed about.
It can be hard for anyone to accept the reality of the situation, but over time it will sink in. Grieving is different for everyone though and it’s not unusual for it to take weeks for the shock to pass.
Dealing with loss is never easy. If you’re grieving it can be incredibly difficult to try to help your son or daughter, who is going through the same thing.
However, there are things you can do to help the process, both for yourself and to enable your son or daughter to manage.
Encourage them to accept their feelings – there’s no correct way to feel after suffering loss. All emotions are normal. Whether it’s anger, guilt, relief or even no feelings at all. Accepting what arises will make the process easier.
Crying is OK – when someone cries, our impulse is usually to try and get them to stop. Unless it’s prolonged or hysterical, crying is actually a healthy release.
Time out – everyone should get some space, to hang out with friends, watch TV or whatever. Wanting to support your son or daughter is great, but a bit of space can be healthy for all.
Allow a smile – it’s alright for your son or daughter to have fun and a laugh with friends. It doesn’t mean the grieving process is over or the person who has passed away will be missed any less.
Encourage a goodbye – letting go of the lost person is an important part of the grieving process for anyone who has suffered loss. Saying goodbye at the funeral, writing a letter to the person or going somewhere that holds a connection to them can be a huge help.
Talk – it seems obvious, but talking about the person who passed away and discussing feelings around it really can be a benefit. At the very least make it known that you’re available to talk at any time.
Over time life will return to something closer to normal. While it’s not easy to deal with the loss it will cease to be so overwhelming. However, we can get stuck in our grief and find it hard to work through grief.
Changes in someone’s behaviour in the short-term is to be expected, but over a longer time-frame it may be an indication they’re not managing and might need extra support.
If someone from the family, or a close friend, has passed away then the whole family will be grieving.
Taking care of your own mental health and working through your grief is imperative if you’re trying to help children with their own emotion at the same time.
It’s important to get support if you need it. There’s no shame in admitting the need for help, whether it’s with day-to-day things like household chores and child-minding, or more emotional support like counselling.
Try to do things together as a family. Spending time together, even doing things like eating together at the table can help in managing the loss and getting life back to some sense of normality.
It’s not that you’re trying to forget what happened, but routine and being available to one another can help with pulling the family together.
Barnardos: Bereavement Counselling for Children and Young People: Barnardos run a helpline for young people who’ve lost someone. It’s open Monday to Friday from 10am to 12noon (Wed – 12pm to 2pm) 01 4732110.
Rainbows Ireland: a peer-support programme to assist children, young people and adults who are grieving a death, separation or other painful transition in their family. You can visit the website or call them on 01 4734175.