Young people need as much time to grieve after the death of someone close, whether they show it or not. The most common issue for a parent is that the child doesn't 'seem' to be distressed so they don't want to upset them. Children are in a world where they are used to not having control over things and therefore often accept things quicker that doesn't mean that it is OK with them though. Their feelings can be hidden from people, the child often watches the grown up to see how they are 'supposed' to react. It is a very confusing and painful time for a child and they can feel very uncertain of everything. A hug and a honesty is often the best way to help the child cope. However if your in much pain yourself then this can be very difficult.
Very young children may miss the person who has died but they do not really understand that death is permanent. However they will be very sensitive to the reactions of those around them. They may become very anxious and unsettled and will need even more love and attention. Try to get them back into a calm routine as soon as possible.
School-age children begin to understand more about death and become aware that the person is not coming back. They may feel angry and worried as well as sad that the safety of their world has been upset in this way. Younger children may also worry that they caused the death by something naughty they said or did.
Children tend to express their feelings through behavior rather than words. Rather than looking distressed or crying you may find they are more irritable or energetic, for example. They may wake at night or have nightmares and they may show their anxiety by regressing to more babyish talk and demanding behavior Children will need explanations and reassurances about their worries and opportunities to express their feelings through talking with understanding friends and relatives or through play. Encouraging happy memories through looking at photographs or other mementos can be a comfort.
Teenagers are more likely to understand death as an adult does and more likely to be aware of the feelings of others. However they are also likely to find it difficult to express their feelings in words, particularly to other adults and they may bottle up their emotions because they think everyone in the family is already upset enough. As a result their distress may affect their lives in other ways. For example they may become withdrawn or schoolwork may suffer or they may seem more difficult and less cooperative, for example. Make it clear that you understand they are going through a distressing time and that you are there to listen if they want to talk about the person who has died or their own feelings
With the invention of the internet many young people have found that services such as Memorial websites can give them a place to go and remember the person they have lost and share their grief with other friends and family members, without the immediacy of being face to face which most teenagers find uncomfortable.
If you are so distressed by the death yourself that you cannot offer a child or young person the support they need, try to ensure that another relative or family friend is there for them. Routine is vital for children as they can easily feel very nervous of change at this time, ultimately there is no perfect way for you to guide a child through grief and watching them try to cope can be heartbreaking.
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