Young children under the age of 12 runs on their emotions. They are concrete in their thinking and their little egocentric minds don’t allow them to grasp the abstract. Death is an abstract concept. How does a young child express their grief?
FEAR – For children, fear is a basic emotion following a death. Who will take care of me? Will we die too? What if my parent dies? These all only of a few of the fear-based questions a child may ask. However, fear can present itself in other ways as well. Some children will have behavioral regressions when afraid. Some children who were formerly underachievers become overachievers and vice versa, as a response to fear. Still, others may display withdrawn behaviors also based on fear. Children need reassurance and tending to when fear arises.
GUILT – Guilt in children is common due to their egocentric thinking. However, when a death occurs a child may need reminding that their guilt is unrealistic. In an effort to take care of our children we may shield them from the information they may need in order to release them from their irrational guilt. Children are sensitive to an adult’s emotions. So when an adult is tense or sad, a young child may take responsibility for these feelings. Children need reassurance and attentiveness when guilt arises.
ANGER – An angry child can be a difficult one, yet anger and grief go hand in hand. A child may be angry at themselves for behavior they’ve displayed towards the deceased. Children may be angry that the person is no longer in their life. Anger can also be displayed as the power to compensate for fear. Children need reassurance and tending to when anger arises.
SORROW – Children feel sorrow just as an adult would when grieving. Sorrow is an expression of woundedness the child may feel after a loss. Lending comfort through touch, patience, and companionship assists the child in feeling safe which is seen as the antidote to sorrow. If you or someone you know would benefit from grief counseling, call Perspectives of Troy Counseling Centers at 248-244-8644.
By Patricia Mroch, MA, LPC, NCC