Children may also show many other feelings and physical reactions in relation to their bereavement and these lists are neither definitive nor conclusive but include the following:
- Sense of presence
- Absent mindedness
- Feelings of a hollow stomach
- Tight chest or throat
- Depersonalization – feeling out of body
- Weakness in muscles and general lethargy
- Lack of energy
- Physical Reactions and Responses
The following reactions should be considered in understanding how a child grieves through behaviour indicators:
- Displaying physical and verbal aggression
- Children may use naughty behaviour and/or have tantrums when they shout and scream. Adolescents may demonstrate their behaviour through mood swings, which may be either frequent and/or unpredictable in their outbursts, as they deal with a wide of range of varying and intense emotions.
- Regressive behaviour
- Regressive behaviour is not exclusive to bereavement, as often when a child is struggling with a change in their environment and situation that they do not feel comfortable with, they may revert to earlier forms of behaviour.
- Sleep patterns
- Children’s sleep patterns may alter as a result of bereavement.
- Physical manifestations
- Bereavement and mourning can be a physically exhausting experience for adults and children alike, particularly if the experience has been protracted or especially traumatic. Children may complain of physical ailments as a response to the emotional pain they are experiencing. They may complain of headaches or tummy aches or may try to explain how they are feeling as being like a sore head or a sore tummy.
Points to Remember
- Children of all ages are able to grieve.
- Children of all ages may need to be reminded that nothing that they did or did not do caused someone to die. They need reassurance that it was not their fault, they are not that powerful and sometimes things happen for reasons that cannot be explained.
- Irrespective of age, it is generally better to involve children in what is happening earlier on when someone is ill, so that they can begin to understanding and come to terms with what is happening.
- It is important to use appropriate language and be honest and consistent with explanations.
- Children may ask you detailed and complex questions about illness and death. Before giving an answer, it is always helpful to find out what the child knows first. It is OK to say that you do not know the answer but will find out and let them know. Do not lie or make up an answer.
- Children may find it difficult to sustain long periods of being sad in the same way adults do and may, instead, dip in and out of the experience.