5 Ways Grief Affects Children

Child looking at wall

Experiencing loss in childhood is a traumatic experience.

Like most adults, children often have unique grief reactions depending on their age, gender, personality, family circumstances, developmental stage, support level, and many other factors. Grief affects children in various ways; here are a few.

For one, grief cause makes a child develop sudden curiosity about the lost loved one, the circumstances of their death, and what happens next.

A grieving child will likely ask multiple questions out of worry, fear, or curiosity.

Also, grief can affect children's academic functioning.

After a significant loss, some children may find it challenging to concentrate, find motivation and cope with the academic and social struggles of being a student.

The school environment can quickly become overwhelming, making it harder to focus on either their education or grief.

Similarly, grief can cause an increased risk of developmental problems for children.

Younger children may become susceptible to temporary regression, and older children may lose life coping skills such as social skills or decision-making skills.

It is thus vital for caregivers/parents to provide the proper grief support a child needs in their healing journey.

Continue this overview to learn five ways grief affects children.

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Kimberly Nefflen, LPCC

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Megan Brausam, LPC

There's no "one size fits all" approach to therapy.

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Randal Thomas, SWC

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Increased Curiosity

Grieving children are likely to develop curiosity about death, mortality, spirituality, and dying.

Grief affects children by developing their curiosity and making them suddenly question things they once overlooked.

Depending on the child's age, they might ask generic questions or demand specific answers to some issues.

It is essential to answer all questions honestly while showing compassion and care for them.

However, you should also adapt your responses considering the child's age, experiences, and beliefs.

Also, to ensure you answer the child's questions in the best way possible, you can ask the child questions about their thoughts.

Doing this allows you to gauge the child's understanding, understand the intention behind their question, and know their emotional state.

In addition, it's okay to know only some of the answers.

You can provide support, reassurance, and care instead.

Remember, your words can affect how the child grieves, so only give answers you are certain about. 

Diminished Academic Functioning

Grief affects children and makes it difficult to perform as they used to in certain aspects of their life, including academics.

For many children, grief has a profound effect on learning ability, motivation, concentration, and by extension, academic functioning.

Good students may lack the motivation to continue studying, eventually letting their grades slip.

Students who already had learning struggles before their loss may see their problems worsen.

Likewise, some children may lose interest in attending classes.

Upright students may start to break school rules.

Social students may begin to withdraw and isolate themselves from friends, and introverted students may easily fall into depression.

The impact grief has on a child's education is immense.

It can negatively impact a child's academic development and make them vulnerable to short-term and long-term mental health complications such as intense anxiety or depression.

Behavioral Changes

Many children often show changes in behaviors after experiencing a significant loss.

Grief affects children emotionally and mentally and leads to several behavioral problems that weren't in existence before.

For instance, younger children may develop clinginess and act younger than their age.

Even when they don't fully understand the loss, they often notice the distress in their parents/caregivers, so they may react by seeking attention, refusing to eat, crying more, or being irritable.

Also, older children may be drawn to bad behaviors such as taking drugs, aggression, defiance, bullying, acting out, breaking school rules, or talking back at home.

Similarly, a grieving child may display changes in attitude towards their likes and hobbies, especially when they partook in those hobbies with the lost loved one.

They may lose interest in pursuing their goals, develop low self-confidence, and lack the motivation to do things as they used to.

Given these adverse effects associated with grief, it's imperative that grieving children get proper support to grieve in a healthy way.

Grief & Loss Therapists in Colorado

Samantha Zavala, LPCC

Samantha Zavala, LPCC

Aurora, Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Joshua Goldberg, LPCC

Joshua Goldberg, LPCC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Holly Bradbury, LPC

Holly Bradbury, LPC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Janelle Wagenknecht, MA, LPCC, ADDC

Janelle Wagenknecht, MA, LPCC, ADDC

Colorado
(720) 710-0919
Rebecca Johnson, LPCC, NCC

Rebecca Johnson, LPCC, NCC

Pueblo, Colorado
(719) 696-3439
Amber Chambless, LPC

Amber Chambless, LPC

Colorado
(720) 449-4121
Arias Gonzales, MS, LPC, NCC, EMDR-Trained

Arias Gonzales, MS, LPC, NCC, EMDR-Trained

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Randal Thomas, SWC

Randal Thomas, SWC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 602-1342
Naomi Kettner, LPC, NCC

Naomi Kettner, LPC, NCC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 452-4374
Jasleen Karir, SWC

Jasleen Karir, SWC

Aurora, Colorado
(720) 449-4121

Increased Risk of Developmental Problems

One of the ways grief affects children is by causing developmental problems and regression in previously reached milestones.

Because children are in their formative years, traumatic events like the death of a loved one can have a negative impact on their cognitive, mental, and social development.

For instance, toddlers and preschoolers might revert to bed wetting, crawling, or refusing to sleep at night.

Likewise, grieving children can develop cognitive manifestations of grief, such as mental confusion, talking to the lost loved one, daydreaming, etc.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective strategy to help grieving children experiencing cognitive manifestations of grief.

In addition, research suggests that children experiencing grief have a higher risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder and experiencing profound emotional reactions like depression, suicidal thoughts, and chronic fatigue than non-grieving children.

Similarly, grief can affect a child's social development by causing them to withdraw from others, isolate, set unrealistic expectations of others, and have difficulty maintaining friendships.

With the right support, however, children are often able to heal gradually and regain lost social skills.

Sleeping or Eating Disorders

Often grief affects children's sleeping and eating habits. Excess sleep, or lack of it, is a common reaction to grief, and children are not exempted.

Children experiencing symptoms of grief are more likely to develop sleeping or eating disorders or even both.

Factors that cause children's sleeping problems may include nightmares, losing a bedtime partner, nighttime rumination, or fear.

Not only do these factors disrupt sleep, but they can also make the grieving process complicated.

Similarly, grief can disrupt a child's eating habits and lead to potential problems.

While some adolescents may reach out for junk and sugary foods, others may lose their appetite and refuse to eat.

However, diet plays a crucial role in coping with grief, and if care is not taken, a poor diet can lead to complicated grief, eating disorders, extreme weight gain/loss, poor self-esteem, and health problems.

Thus, it is essential for caretakers to pay special attention to a grieving child's eating and sleeping habits, as they are important to the healing journey.

Conclusion

Coping with the loss of a loved one is difficult, and for children, it can affect their life in several ways.

After a significant loss, children are suddenly exposed to intense and unfamiliar emotions of grief which can be difficult for them to cope with.

As a parent/caregiver, it is important to provide grief support, teach coping skills, and assist the child in healthily grieving their loss.

Ways in which grief affects children include increasing curiosity, decreasing academic functioning, causing behavioral changes, increasing the risk of developmental problems, and prompting eating or sleeping disorders. 

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July 14th, 2024

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