Bereaved children experience grief very differently to adults

Written by Angela Flood, Family Support Practitioner at Very Special Kids

Bereaved children experience and express grief very differently to adults and also quite differently to each other.

I remember working with a family whose child had died at Very Special Kids Hospice. The parents and I had made the decision to wait until morning came to break the news to the sibling.

We took the little boy aged 6 into the room where his sibling lay and explained that they had died peacefully during the night and that they were now in heaven.

The sibling cried briefly, asked some questions and then left the room. Less than five minutes later he was eating pancakes and laughing at a cartoon on TV. His parents were quite concerned by this behaviour and asked me things such as:

Does he understand what has happened?

Is this normal behaviour, should we be worried?

My answers were simple, “yes I think he understands, his behaviour is appropriate for a 6 year old.”

Children unlike us adults are very good at switching their grief on and off. This does not mean they have not understood what has happened, it just often means that they have taken in what has been said and have been sad for as long as they can at the time.

Children will often grieve in short bursts, before needing to move on to something else. Sometimes I think this style of grieving would be great for us adults too.

Also unlike adults, children are not necessarily affected by what others think grief should look like, although they can learn from adults some of the ways of grieving.

Some parents try not to show emotion or sadness in front of their children to try and protect them, but in reality children need to learn that it is okay to be sad and cry if they need to.

“I did not want to be curled up in the foetal position all day, but I did want my child to know it was okay to cry and express sadness” – parent supported by Very Special Kids.

To find out more information on Very Special Kids bereavement support, please click here.