Similarities/Differences between Child and Adult Grief - Hospice of the North Coast

Similarities

  • Need to express grief openly
  • Need to have their grief acknowledged by others
  • Need extra support through the grief process
  • Need assurance it was not their fault (magical thoughts)
  • Need assurance they are not “going crazy”

Differences

  • Child’s grief: intermittent, sometimes seemingly absent Adult’s grief: continual awareness and experience of loss
  • Child’s understanding of death: limited to their age and cognitive development Adult’s understanding of death: more mature in their understanding
  • Child’s ability to remember the deceased: limited before puberty, may need help remembering Adult’s ability to remember the deceased: fully developed memories are complete
  • Child: grows up with the loss, grieves longer Adult: has already grown up when the death occurs
  • Children: may talk openly about death Adults: have preconceived notions about how people respond and may not share their feelings
  • Child: depends on a consistent caregiver to meet basic needs Adult: basic needs can be met by self

Children’s Response To The Death Of A Significant Other Depends Upon:

  • The cause and type of death.
  • The child’s age, gender, and developmental level.
  • The nature of the relationship with the deceased.
  • The manner in which the child is informed about the death.
  • How well the child is prepared for the death.
  • The child’s mental health and coping style prior to the death.
  • The reality, honesty, and scope of the information given to the child.
  • Other recent or concurrent losses in the children’s/family’s life.
  • The openness of the family environment to allow and promote discussion of the death and expression of feelings about the death.
  • The nature and availability of a healthy support system.
  • The caregiver’s ability to acknowledge and role-model grieving.
  • The child’s self-esteem.
  • The family’s ability to accept healing and reinvest in living.
  • The caregiver’s awareness about and ability to accept the children’s way of grieving.

Normal Grief Reaction In Children

  • Anger at the person who died.
  • Anger at the surviving parent.
  • Anger at doctors/nurses for not saving the life of the one who died.
  • Anger at God/self/life. It is not fair that their loved one died.
  • Fear that other loved ones will die.
  • Fear of getting the same disease or experiencing the same event responsible for the loved one’s death.
  • Fear of doctor’s/hospitals.
  • Fear of separation from attachment figures or safe environments.
  • Fear of getting close to others who may in turn die.
  • Guilt that they caused the illness and/or death.
  • Guilt that they could prevent the person from dying.
  • Guilt that they are having fun while the loved one is ill/dead.
  • Denial of the loved one’s illness or death.
  • Searching for the deceased person.
  • Sadness and/or depression.
  • Yearning/pining for the deceased person.
  • Difficulty concentrating and temporary drop in school performance.
  • Acting out behaviors.
  • Thought of not wanting to live/being unable to live without the loved one.
  • Temporary withdrawal from friends and activities.
  • Short-term difficulty or unwillingness to discuss the deceased.