5 Grief Myths About Children and Teens

Sad boy sitting alone
Many myths involve kids and how they react to the death of someone close.. Photo © Imagesbybarbara/E+/Getty Images

Many myths exist about how children and teens experience and process their feelings of grief and loss following a death. Often motivated by the desire to protect children from traumatic, emotional events in general, parents and guardians sometimes assume their child is simply too young to understand what's going on, or worry that a funeral or burial service will trigger fears about dying and death afterward.

This article offers the truth behind five common grief myths concerning children and teens to help you understand their needs and better comfort and support a grieving child.

Myth 1: Young Children do Not Grieve

Children grieve at any age, which can manifest itself in many ways depending on the child's age, developmental stage and/or life experiences. Children generally do a very good job of grieving intensely for a time and then taking a break, often in the form of play. This might account for why parents/adults often mistake a child's play as a sign that the child isn't grieving or remains unaware/unaffected of the death that occurred.

Myth 2: Children Under a Certain Age Should Not Attend Funerals

Every child handles his or her feelings of grief and loss differently based upon numerous factors, so there is no universal or "one size fits all" answer to the question of whether or not your child should attend a funeral, memorial service or interment based solely upon his or her age.

Your child's age can certainly play a part, but so too does his or her maturity level; what and how a parent or guardian has told the child or teen about the death; and even how the significant adults in his or her life are coping with the loss.

Myth 3: Children Quickly Get Over a Loss

The truth is that no one ever really gets over a significant loss due to death.

Despite the intense pain triggered when someone we love dies, and the wound it creates on our hearts and souls, we really only learn how to live with the reality of that forever-loss and the void it creates. Likewise, children and teenagers might emotionally/mentally revisit their loss at later stages in their development and, as their understanding of the permanence of death changes, their grief might arise at various points later in life.

Myth 4: Significant Loss Permanently Scars a Child

Children, like most people, are generally resilient. While a significant loss can certainly affect the development of a child or teenager based upon many differing factors, loving parents, guardians and/or other adults who create an environment of support and continuing care usually help children and teens deal with their feelings of grief in a healthy manner. Often, this starts with how you talk to a child about death and the example you provide, as an influential role model in your child's life.

Myth 5: Parents Should Not Discuss Death/Grief with Children

It is important to promote open, honest communication with children and teens concerning their grief and/or their understanding of death and loss.

There are many ways to help your child express grief, but depending upon your child's age or maturity level, non-conversational approaches that encourage expression might prove more effective, such as art projects, reading a book, playing a game, music or dance. Children and/or adolescents might find these methods more effective to helping them express their feelings, which can lead to a more positive outcome for you and your child.

Edited and updated by Chris Raymond, February 29, 2016.

Sources:
"Recognizing the Needs of Bereaved Children in Palliative Care" by Darrell Owens. Journal of Hospice & Palliative Nursing, January-February 2008.

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