The loss of a beloved family member or friend, moving, or divorce can all bring feelings of loss and grief to young children. It can be challenging to identify that a young child is experiencing and attempting to deal with loss or grief.
From FOCUS on Early Childhood Mental Health, ways young children express grief may include:
• Emotional shock, often expressed by withdrawal and not showing any feelings
• Immature behavior, like needing to be held, difficulty separating from parents
• Acting-out behavior, demonstrating the child’s internal feelings of anger, fear and helplessness
• Asking the same questions repeatedly, like why did this happen, where is so-and-so?
How to help children handle the inevitable losses and changes that are part of life
- Recognize that children will notice the loss/change and don’t ignore it.
- If you can, explain ahead of time what will happen. This helps children begin to prepare and develop confidence that they can successfully manage grief and loss.
- If you can, give children the opportunity to say goodbye—for example, to a teacher who is leaving.
- Reassure children that you will continue to love and care for them even while things are changing.
- Encourage children to talk about how they feel. This normalizes feelings of sadness, anger, helplessness.
- Talk about how change is a normal part of everyday life: for example, children outgrow their clothes, learn to write their names, tie their shoes, ride a bicycle.
- Assure children that they are not to blame for what happened and do not lie to them.
- Use the opportunity to help children learn new skills, like being flexible and working with others.
- Acknowledge and treat children as though you understand that what affects them is their business
- The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN): Traumatic Grief
- National Alliance for Grieving Children
- National Association for the Education of Young Children (NEAYC) Teacher Resources on Death
- Highmark Caring Place
- The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) Book List
- ZERO TO THREE Feelings Book List