Grief looks different for everyone. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. Everyone has their own unique experiences with processing loss. For parents, dealing with grief while supporting their child on their own healing journey can be challenging. Furthermore, children don’t always deal with the same symptoms of grief that adults do. Depending on your child’s age, they may not have the capacity to truly understand the permanence of death.
If you’re confused about your child’s grief symptoms, keep in mind that someone’s age greatly influences how they cope with loss. Here are a few unexpected symptoms of grief in children that might catch parents off guard.
1. Anger and Irritability
Has your child seemed angry lately? Perhaps they used to be very well-behaved and polite. The two of you rarely argued unless something significant was wrong. Now, it seems like they try to pick a fight with you every day. Furthermore, you’re worried that they’re behaving the same way in school, too.
While this can be frustrating, it’s important to note that anger can actually be a symptom of grief, especially in children. Your child might not know how to express their feelings about the loss they’ve experienced, and now, they’re letting out their sadness the only way they can.
2. Anxiety Over Practical Issues
If your child lost someone who helped care for them, such as their other parent, an older sibling, a grandparent, or even a close family friend, they might be wondering how this will affect practical matters in your household.
Even if you’ve always provided your child with a stable life, they might suddenly be worried about money, or who will take care of them when you’re not around. You may be surprised by some of these questions, but make sure to reassure your child that they will be okay.
Sometimes, young children may not realize that death means someone is truly gone, with no way of coming back. A child who has not completely processed what this means might seem almost indifferent to the loss.
Parents should keep in mind that exhibiting this indifference doesn’t mean that their child did not care about the person who died. Their child might have a delayed grief response when they accept that their loved one is gone.
4. Curiosity and Questioning
Older children may not have many questions about the nature of death – but younger children are often intensely curious. This is a normal aspect of development, and when your children encounter an unfamiliar topic or situation, it’s only natural that they will ask lots of questions. Even if some of these questions seem silly or inappropriate, do your best to answer your children. It’s okay to admit when you don’t know what to say, but don’t simply brush them off or dismiss them.
People of all ages can be superstitious. Children might express superstitious beliefs about death and grief. For example, if they played with a particular toy on the day that your loved one passed away, they may not want to play with it anymore. Your child may suddenly have fears and anxieties around activities that took place right before their loved one died.
They are trying to make sense of what happened, and they might fear that their own actions somehow hurt their loved ones. In their mind, it’s a matter of cause and effect. You may have to soothe your child’s fears if they’ve been acting superstitious.
Are you struggling to help your child process grief? Working with a therapist can help. Reach out to us to discuss your options for scheduling your first session.