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Grief: A Child’s Perspective

To be in grief is to experience and manage the emotions associated with feeling bereaved. It is an instinctive reaction to any painful event that one goes through in life, such as parent separation or divorce, losing one's home, or breaking up with friends, but it is mainly linked to death or the loss of a loved one. Grief may manifest in various ways, including social, emotional, cognitive, and physical.

But is it the same for the children?

For kids and teenagers, the degree of the reaction factor is contingent on their closeness to the departed, how close they were to their passing away, and the reason for their death. Grief is definite and particular to each person. They may attempt to blend in or exhibit antisocial behaviour, withdrawing into seclusion or experiencing moments of annoyance or rage.

Stages of Grief

Dr. J. William Worden, a well-known psychologist, developed the "Worden Four Tasks of Mourning" model to explain this grieving cycle further. To successfully manage and progress through the mourning process, people usually must complete the four tasks outlined in this model. These tasks are crucial parts of the grieving process since they help people make sense of their loss in a streamlined way.

Here are the four tasks:

  • Task 1: Accepting the Reality of the Loss:

Loss is Inevitable. The first challenge is recognising and embracing the reality that the loss has happened. This stage entails acknowledging the breakdown of a relationship or dealing with any other significant loss. It's about taking in and processing the circumstance as it is.

  • Task 2: Processing the Pain of Grief:

Following acceptance of the loss as a fact, it's essential to process the emotional suffering. This task entails feeling and expressing various grief-related emotions, including uncertainty, anger, guilt, and sadness.

As quoted, "It's important to let GO"

Whether it is feelings or emotions, allowing oneself to feel, express, and let go of them can subsequently help with dealing.

  • Task 3: Adjusting to the Environment in Which the Deceased is Missing:

Alongside feelings, it becomes a must to let go of the person and learn to adjust to living without them.

Redefining roles and duties, creating new routines, and figuring out how to go about everyday life without the missing person are some practical changes that may be necessary.

  • Task 4: Finding an Enduring Connection with the Deceased while Embarking on a New Life:

Last but not least, the challenge is to figure out how to go on with life and yet have a deep relationship with the departed. This entails incorporating the deceased's memories and impact into one's existence rather than forgetting them. Finding a space for the memories and influence of the departed loved one while moving ahead is crucial to establishing continuity.

Worden's Four Tasks of Mourning

According to Worden, these tasks don't have to be completed in order, and people could go back to certain ones at different points while they're grieving. A framework for comprehending the grieving process is offered by the Worden model, which highlights the need to complete certain activities to grieve well actively. 

“Remember that each person experiences loss differently, so remember that people may complete these tasks at various rates and in different ways.”

Even though an individual needs to go through a grief cycle and come to terms with and accept the situation, if the process gets stuck and behaviour becomes maladaptive and destructive, it is an essential time for an intervention.  Both children and adolescents have their way of expressing grief and hence require specific age-appropriate interventions to fulfil Worden 4-Task of grieving.  Even though it consumes a significant amount of energy and emotions of an individual, grieving and completing the grief circle requires some help and intervention, and it can be different for each age group.

How can children be intervened in their grieving process?

  • Listening:

It makes a big difference to say, "I am here for you." . They can handle their circumstances better when you understand them, empathise with them, and give them the confidence to express their feelings. Additionally, it's critical to support kids in expressing themselves through other mediums like writing, sketching, or doodling if they cannot do it verbally. 

  • Accurate Information Transmission

It is believed that since they are children, it is better to mould reality into fantasy and make them believe in half-said truths. But it should be stated explicitly that truthful information must be presented to kids age-appropriately since they will find it more difficult to accept reality as they age rather than betraying their confidence and having inappropriate conversations. 

  • Grief Support Groups must be present in schools wherein children get a comfortable space to share their feelings with their peers and a facilitator who can intervene with their issues.

  • Little exercises like "Rays of Sunshine," which entails drawing a picture of the departed person in the sun and writing a note about them in the rays, or "Ice Cube," which teaches the kids, for example, that ice stays hard in the refrigerator and only melts when it is taken out. 

Similarly, the sadness they are going through will cause them to feel complex emotions until they can express and deal with them.

Like children, it is equally important to bring creative interventions for grieving adolescents so that they can come to terms with their present situation and move towards the acceptance phase. 

  • Music- Adolescents begin to rely on the words and significance of the music, and it becomes their significant companion. As a result, music can be used as an intervention for grieving teenagers. The teenager can be asked to rewrite and edit the original song lyrics to make them more relevant to their current circumstances and to help others understand their aspirations and goals. 

  • Art and drama- When words and emotions are few, art may be a safe way to communicate pain. Teenagers and even younger children can be requested to sketch an image that depicts their sentiments, both past and present, or a bridge that connects their current emotions to their ideal selves. 

  • Psychodrama can also be a suitable intervention method wherein adolescents can act spontaneously and creatively. 

  • Bibliotherapy involves narrating stories depicting how children their age could cope and adjust to a similar situation. It uses stories of children/adolescents and how they overcome the same scenario, helping them give alternatives and push to deal with their grief. 

  • Traumatic Grief Therapy, which includes Cognitive Behaviour Therapy or Family therapy that helps children or adolescents express and deal with their emotions, can also be actively used as an intervention.

Child grieving

Hence, The grief from the loss of their close ones, or any traumatic life event, can be critical to the health of children or adolescents, physically and mentally. Therefore, it is crucial to help them express their emotions and bring them to the phase where they start accepting the present, exploring options for developing their identity and embracing the loss. 

As quoted, “Little by Little, we let go of loss, but never of love.”

Shoemaker, J. B. (2019). Beneficial Mourning by Inmates Who Have Lost a Significant Person.

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