Grief affects children in different ways and if unprocessed can have a profound impact on their childhood and adult lives. Children, adolescents, and teens each differ in their understanding of death and loss depending on their emotional and physiological developmental stages. The death of a loved one, especially a parent or guardian, sibling, grandparent, or even a pet is almost always a traumatic experience for youth and can negatively impact physical and mental health, school work, and relationships with friends.
Children, adolescents and teens grieve differently
By nature, children, adolescents and teens are immersed in social settings where they are expected to emotionally grow and academically succeed. When a young adult is coping with grief their daily routine is a constant reminder to them of the loss and differences they face compared to their peers. School-age children are very concerned with fitting in and grieving children are likely to feel different and very alone. During school and social activities, adolescents and teens are confronted with daily reminders of how different they are from friends. Milestones such as birthdays, first days of school, graduations, school events, and parent-child activities all serve to highlight their loss and the pain associated with being different from their peers. These perceived differences may contribute to isolation, sadness, depression, anger, poor academic performance, and decreased interpersonal relationships.
Children, adolescents and teens express grief in different ways than adults. As an example, they tend to experience intense feelings of grief in shorter durations. Rather than remain sad or angry for an extended period of time children may transition back and forth from “seeming fine” to outwardly struggling. These different manifestations among children, adolescents, and teens may be difficult for adults to interpret. When grieving children engage in periods of laughter or play, adults may mistakenly believe the child is no longer grieving and therefore may not feel grief support is needed.
The benefits of therapeutic services for youth
Individual therapy and/or adolescent and teen support groups are proven and effective healing tools. Treatment focuses on re-establishing a sense of normalcy and combines playful activities with coping skills and a chance to express emotions in a supportive environment. Children, adolescents, and teens learn how to reconnect and fit in while they have an opportunity to explore their thoughts without worrying about the surviving adults in their lives. Treatment increases self-esteem and self-confidence and can reduce long-term negative behaviors such as acting out or engaging in self-harm or other unhealthy coping mechanisms.
As grief therapists, we have specialized training and skills and substantial experience working with children, adolescents, and teens who are grieving the death of a loved one. With individual therapy and/or support groups I am able to deliver age and developmentally appropriate interventions and activities to help our youth heal, understand, accept and continue to thrive within their experience of death.