At some point every child will suffer from loss – and some children cope reasonably well, while others find it really tough to deal with. Some children will internalise their grief and you may not even realise that they are having hard time dealing with it.
There are many different types of loss, the death of a loved one may be the most obvious, but moving home, a best friend moving away or even changing schools can generate similar feelings of grief.
A death in the family
If a close family member dies, the younger members of the family may not really understand what ‘dying’ means. That doesn’t mean they won’t miss someone they’ve loved. However, memories are very powerful and the best thing is to continue to talk about the person who has passed on and relive the happy times.
Encourage them to ask questions and talk about their loved one and to look at photos and revisit that person’s favourite places. It will help to keep those lovely warm memories alive.
This works for all ages on different levels. When we talk of passing on, it implies that there is something else afterwards. Regardless of your religious beliefs or if you have none, think of it as passing on to become happy memories.
There are many reasons for moving home: work relocation for a parent, the need to be closer to an older family member who needs support, or outgrowing the current house. It may be hard to imagine that moving home will trigger grief, but when it’s the only home you’ve known and loved for many years there is bound to be a sense of loss.
Kids don’t always express their feeling rationally and may simply act out, be moodier than usual or uncooperative. From a parent’s point of view, it may seem unreasonable when you’ve explained why it’s necessary to move.
But it’s important to recognise that this is a big event in their life, a huge change and a feeling of loss will result in having to leave behind all the familiar things in their life.
Make sure they visit the new house before the actual move and see their new room. Talk about where your furniture will go and get them to come on an exploratory trip around the local neighbourhood, to find shops, parks and other facilities.
Keep the conversation positive, no complaining about packing everything up and the upheaval of moving. If you’re excited about the move, there’s more chance they will be.
Imagine what those children who lived in the Grenfell Tower will have experienced in the way of loss. Not only losing their home, but not having a nice new home to move to – and, possibly, also having lost friends too.
You may think that ‘Best Friends Forever’ is not a big deal for kids. They fall out, change allegiances and grow out of some friends. However, that doesn’t mean that losing a friend isn’t going to have a big impact.
There are all kinds of reasons for children losing friends. Most commonly it’s because they move away with their families – or you do. But sometimes, when the school change comes at the end of Year 6, your child and their friend end up at different schools.
It can even be because of an extra-curricular activity that one child does and the other doesn’t that intervenes; children who get into any sport seriously sometimes end up spending a great deal of time on the track, field or practice location.
It’s not unusual for a child to feel the loss of a friend really hard, particularly if they haven’t got a big circle of friends and acquaintances. They may need more of your attention and perhaps some Dad or Mum trips out.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to introduce them to a new group activity or, for older kids, encourage them to get involved in a community project.
What can you do?
While it may be very ‘British’ to keep a stiff upper lip and ‘soldier on’, it’s not good for ongoing mental health. Encourage your child to talk about how they feel. Be prepared for some withdrawal or acting out (depending on the personality of your child) and don’t get drawn into nagging or being too hard on them. Never belittle their feelings – it won’t improve the situation and can simply result in them feeling worse.
If they are really suffering and don’t seem to accept the support you want to give, consider counselling.