What is Grief?

Grief is the collection of thoughts and feelings that occur when a loved one dies.

What is Mourning?

Mourning is the expression of grief. Children mourn through their behavior rather than verbal expression.

The Tasks of Mourning

  1. Acknowledging the loss.
  2. Experiencing the pain and reacting to the separation.
  3. Moving adaptively into the new without forgetting the old.

Understanding the process of grief in children ages 6-12

  • Concrete thinkers who are beginning to develop thinking patterns.
  • They question how their lives will be different, what will be the same, and how one knows the person is dead.
  • Usually interested in how the body works, may ask questions like: Did his blood get all over the windshield? Will her hair fall out now that she is dead?
  • Their questions and play may be graphic and gory, displaying a fear of bodily harm and mutilation. (details are common).
  • At this age they have a better understanding of death and comprehend that they too can die.
  • They often perceive death as a punishment for something they did, and often associate guilt with death.
  • They begin to fear death.
  • They realize death is final and people they love can die too.
  • There is curiosity regarding the biological aspects of death.
Things to keep in mind when dealing with elementary and middle school aged children:
  • They cannot sustain emotional pain for long periods of time.
  • DO NOT reject their emotions.
  • DO NOT tell them how to feel or how not to feel.
  • Death is not contagious- be sure to differentiate.
  • Remember that children tend to idolize the dead…help them to gently regain their balance and perspective.
Common Behaviors to Expect: In Ages 6-9
  • Regression to earlier behaviors.
  • Crying, protest, pain, despair, disorganization.
  • Fighting, anger, high anxiety.
  • Daydreaming.
  • Not completing homework or assignments.
  • Stable eating/ sleeping patterns are disrupted then return to “normal”.
  • Withdrawal.
  • Less willing to talk about death.
  • Grief reactions ebb and flow.
How to Help:
  • Answer questions as clearly and accurately as possible.
  • Refrain from using clichés.
  • Respond compassionately.
  • Be responsive to their needs without punishment or judgment.
  • Provide art, music, and dance activities.
  • Make time for physical outlets: sports, games, walks.
  • Help the student identify and use support systems.
  • Work with student around academic workload.
  • Allow for expressions of feelings and emotions.
  • Allow flexibility in routines and structure.
  • Give the students choices whenever possible.
  • Let the student know you care and are thinking of them.
  • Assign the student a buddy who can work with him/ her.
  • Create a “ safe place” where a student can go if needed.
Common Behaviors to Expect: In Ages Nine to Twelve:
  • Separation anxiety and fear.
  • Reluctance to leave home and parents.
  • May lose some manual skills.
  • Their grades may fall, daydreaming and blaming…Do not reprimand for poor grades.
  • Denial, guilt, hostility, distancing.
  • Argumentative.
  • Withdrawal and sullenness.
  • Anger and fighting.
  • Sleepiness.
  • Moodiness.
  • Risk taking behaviors (dugs, sexual acting out, stealing).
  • Erratic inconsistent reactions.
How to Help:
  • Expect and except mood swings.
  • Provide a supportive environment where students can share, when needed.
  • Anticipate increased physical concerns, including illness and body aches and pains.
  • Allow the student to choose with whom and how she gets support.
  • Encourage participation in a support group.
  • Allow flexibility in completing school work.

Understanding the Process of Grief in High School students

  • More adult thought processes evident.
  • Able to think abstractly.
  • Understand implications of death.
  • Have feelings of immortality and realize life is fragile.
Common Behaviors to Expect:
  • Assumes the adult role.
  • Preoccupation with death.
  • Withdrawal from parents and other adults.
  • Angry outbursts.
  • May attempt suicide as a gesture.
  • Increased risk taking behaviors.
  • Pushing the limits of the rules.
  • Lack of concentration: inability to focus.
  • Hanging out with a small group of friends.
  • Sad face evidence of crying.
  • Sleepiness, exhaustion.
How to Help:
  • Allow for regression and dependency.
  • Encourage expression of feelings such as sorrow, anger guilt, regret.
  • Understand and allow for variation in maturity level.
  • Answer questions honestly and provide factual information.
  • Model appropriate responses, showing the students your own grief.
  • Avoid power struggles and allow choices.
  • Help students understand and resolve feelings of helplessness.
  • Assist students with plans for completion of assignments.
  • Allow for some flexibility in assignments…be willing to adapt assignments to topics relevant to student’s current experience.