Supporting children through unexpected events:
Grief and Loss
For young children, losing a loved one can lead to a deeply upsetting, emotional and confusing time. Their experience of grief or loss can range from the loss of their favourite bedtime toy to the unexpected death of a significant person in the child’s life.
Though children can recover quickly from being provided with an exciting new toy, they do not respond in the same way when the loss is meaningful. Loss is not only experienced when there is a death. It can similarly be experienced when a child is separated from a loved one due to family separation and divorce.
Children can experience grief and loss from a very young age. It is important to recognise that your child has their own way of grieving and to help them express those feelings.
How can the experience of grief or loss impact my child?
Your child may experience the following:
- sudden irritability
- being upset or unsettled more often than usual
- sleep difficulties, including difficulty settling to sleep or waking up multiple times overnight
- a toilet-trained toddler may regress temporarily to wetting the bed overnight
How can I support my child?
Infant - Birth to 2 years
Young children at this age do not understand what death is, as their language skills are still developing and require less explanation than older children. However, they are receptive to the way adults and those around them respond and manage grief or loss.
Children benefit from caregivers who are engaged in self-care, such as being kind to one’s self, seeking counselling, or help when needed. Parents who self-care and process their grief in a proactive way are found to be more responsive and nurturing to help meet their child’s needs.
It's also worth keeping in mind that young children respond best to keeping as much routine as possible, and they rely on additional close physical contact with caregivers to provide them with a sense of security.
Preschool age - 3 to 5 years
At this age, children do not understand the permanency of death. They need simple and concrete language that they can grasp. Hence it is important that when you talk to them that you use age-appropriate language and refrain from using euphemisms such as “she has just gone away”, “he has gone to sleep”, or “they have passed away” because children can develop unnecessary fears. For example, children may develop fears of going to sleep, or they may worry excessively when a loved one goes on a business trip that they may not come back.
They are likely to continue to ask questions such as “where did grandpa go?” to which you will be required to be patient and answer them consistently in a reassuring way.
How G8 Education can support you and your family
If your child is experiencing grief and loss, it’s best to talk to your centre manager about your circumstances, so our team can be sensitive to the needs of your child and your family at this time.
If the situation is causing financial stress for your family, you may be eligible for Additional Child Care Subsidy. Read more information here and talk to your centre manager about how we can help.
Other helpful resources
- National Centre for Childhood Grief – 1300 654 556
- Grief Line 1300 845 745
- Parent Line 1300 30 1300 (Queensland & NT)
- Life is Like the Wind, by Shona Innes
- When Someone Very Special Dies, by Marge Eaton Heegaard
- The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst