What is Grief?

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Is there a typical grieving process?

There is no right or wrong way to grieve, no “appropriate” length of time to experience grief following the death of an important person. The grieving process varies from child to child and changes as the child grows older. Children’s reactions to death depend upon the child’s age, developmental level, previous life experiences, emotional health before the death, and family and social environment.

Understanding the process of grief in children ages 6-12.

Key Observations:

  • 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.