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Helping children deal with traumatic grief

Traumatic grief affects a child’s mental health if not addressed or dealt. It can affect a child’s development, abilities to socialize, and to form relationships. Moreover, it can also affect his/her ability to perform well in school or extramural activities. A child’s emotional and mental needs are critical during trauma and grief. Thus, parents, caregivers, or any adult in a child’s supervision should be aware of these while helping a child.

Traumatic events such as loss of a loved one at home or school may cause traumatic grief or normal grief depending on the child. Some events include witnessing traumatic events which a child cannot comprehend or understand. Some such events are suicide of a friend, car accidents, natural disasters, and many more.

People process traumatic news differently. Sometimes it is not easy to recognize grief and trauma in children and adolescents. The way adults – react and handle trauma in their child’s life may have an impact on how the child gets affected in the process.

Difference between traumatic grief and normal grief

Traumatic grief triggers unpleasant memories that may hinder a normal grieving process. Normal grief, however, honors grieving with positive thinking and pleasant memories. Children experiencing normal grief, due to the death of someone close, show an interest in talking about the deceased. They may also do activities that remind them of the person. This repetitive behavior helps the child to come to terms with the loss.

Children who experience traumatic grief, show the opposite behavior. Talking or thinking about the loss or traumatic event trigger a negative response in their behaviour. Because of this, the child may want to avoid talking or thinking about the experience.

Symptoms of traumatic grief in children

#1 Changes in behavior

Children and adolescents experiencing traumatic grief may suddenly change their behavior. It includes loss of interest in activities that they once enjoyed, erratic behavior such as children may become irritable and violent, lack of sleep, and many more.

#2 Emotional reaction

It includes depression, anxiety, helplessness, guilt, anger, and remorse.

#3 Avoidance or numbing

The child may avoid anything that may remind him/her of the traumatic event. Alcoholism and substance abuse in adolescents can be triggered.

#4 Academic performance may change

Grief and trauma may cause poor academic performance. In addition, it affects other areas, such as sports and extra curriculum activities.

#5 Physical reaction 

The child may experience sudden illnesses, loss of appetite, low energy, and fatigue.

#6 Reduced social interaction

Children experiencing traumatic grief often isolate themselves from others and group activities. They may also have difficulty sharing memories or being vulnerable.

Helping the child through a traumatic grief

As it has been said in the preceding sections, children show their grief differently. Grief affects children in different ways. One child may experience traumatic grief; another may be experiencing – normal grief. Normal grief may not need special attention or treatment. Moreover, the impact of the trauma may depend on the general support system, and it affects a child’s mental and emotional health.

Children and adolescents showing signs of traumatic behavior may not cope well on their own. Moreover, parents or teachers may not know how to help them get back to their normal self. Parents or caregivers may consult a professional. It is important to consult a professional equipped to deal with children’s mental issues who also understands grief and trauma. This is a long-run process, which will help children emotionally and mentally, which will lead to reduction of permanent emotional damage.


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Note: The opinions expressed in this article are personal views of the author.


Written by Veronica Kuenene

I am an adventurous introvert loner. I love nature and I am passionate about children emotional/mental health.

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