“Children are resilient”- this is often what is said when children have to deal with death. Whilst this is true to a degree, children can still suffer from grief. There are many myths about children and grieving which we will cover in this article. It is important that everyone understands that whilst children may grieve differently, they still grieve and this needs to be addressed, and have access to the support they need
Myth 1: Children don’t hurt as much as they don’t fully understand
This myth is based on the notion that because children don’t understand as much about death they will not hurt as much. The truth is that whilst this may be the case for some, for others it can be the exact opposite. When there is little information about what is going on it can lead to a lot of confusion and can be extremely scary for the child. It is important that information is not kept from them. The information just needs to be told in a way that is age-appropriate.
Myth 2: Children don’t grieve because they don’t understand death
Many people believe that children do not understand death. However, children do notice when there are changes to their environment and will react to these. They do not have to understand why something is happening in order for them to have a reaction. Therefore children of all ages do grieve, just in different ways.
Myth 3: Children will bounce back because they are resilient
Whilst children are resilient, they will not automatically bounce back to who they were before. The death of a loved one can significantly affect them. When a child is young they may only experience short bursts of grief but they may continue to occur at varying intervals. Children can often mask grief as well. They may not show the grief an adult expects and may on the outside look like they are not bothered as they continue to play and laugh but this does not mean they are not experiencing grief. It can show in many different ways and evolve.
Myth 4: Children are not affected by adult’s grief
Children will notice if an adult who is close to them is behaving differently. They may not understand the exact cause or feelings they are experiencing, but they will be aware. Children can often copy behaviours and learn from adults so it’s important that adults try and explain how they are feeling honestly to the child (as long as it’s appropriate for their age group) and help the child understand that if they are feeling sad or angry, it’s ok.
Myth 5: People shouldn’t talk about their loved ones in front of the children to avoid them getting upset
It is a common thought that talking to a child about the loved one who has died will stir up upsetting memories. However, whilst it can be upsetting, talking about loved ones can help people stay connected to them and is something that should be encouraged.
Myth 6: Children should be protected from grief
Grief is painful and whilst it is a parent’s instinct to protect their children from pain, it is important for children to know that grief is painful when it was someone they loved and that this pain is normal. The pain may never fully go away so children need to understand what is happening and that their feelings are ok.
Myth 7: It’s best to keep children busy if they are grieving
Distractions can be helpful but they should not be used in the hope that they will stop the child from asking difficult questions. As we mentioned before, children are very aware of their surroundings and will know that something is wrong and will want answers. Establishing a good line of communication will help them understand quicker.
In many scenarios, sticking to an old routine as much as possible can help. Whilst it may not be the perfect solution for everyone, having an excessive amount of activities for the child to do may help distract them but can cause havoc for their routine.
Communication between adults and children can be difficult when it comes to the loss of a loved one. The important thing to do is not adhere to these myths about children and grieving and understand that whilst children do not have the same level of life experience, they are still conscious of changes and therefore need the support to help them understand. Children think in literal terms, so it is important to have honest conversations with them to help them understand what is going on and why they are feeling the way they do.