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By Karina Rodriguez, LPC, who works from MCHH’s Oak Brook Counseling office.

I remember when my grandmother passed away when I was an adolescent. I was left in shock, confused, kept my emotions to myself because I was scared to cry in front of my family especially my father, who loved his mother so much. I was not sure how life was going to be like now that someone so special left the world. I also remember I was unable to focus on my studies, although my parents kept telling me to do my homework. I felt lost in my own little bubble. I was not sure “how to grief”. Was I supposed to follow my parents lead? Was it okay for me to cry? Was it “normal” to feel the way I was feeling: confused, angry? Was I grieving too little or too much? Truth is, everyone has their own unique way of grieving. There is no timeline. As time passed, I was done with keeping my emotions to myself and grieving by myself. I decided to speak about my feelings with my family and also started therapy to help process my grief.

Now that I described a memory, imagine a child having the time of their life playing with their parent and the next day that all changes. The child is left with confusion, a million of questions, and/or unable to express their feelings as to why their parent is gone. Depending on the child’s age, they may experience grief differently. If the child or adolescent grew up in a secure-attachment parenting household, it is likely they may experience a more difficult time to understand the death of their loved one.

Some children and adolescents do not understand grief. Grief is a process and part of a coping skill to help process the death of a loved one. Children and adolescents may show grief in several different ways such as: through play, anger, depression, fear, guilt, being paranoid etc. Children, just like adults, experience grief and need to know that they are not alone. Some adults may believe that children do not understand the passing of a loved one, however, children need support to process their feelings and understand their feelings. Depending on their age, some children may understand, and some may grief as they grow older.

Grief is not only when a love one passes away, but also when there is a relationship lost. As children start to grow up, they start to lose friends. Some friends join a sport, switch schools, leave town, go to a different school, and overall, go on their own path. Some children and adolescents’ support animal may also die, leading them to pain.

Here are a couple ways children and adolescent could be helped and supported (in no particular order):

  • Based on children’s development, talk to them and speak out about what is going on. Some families tend to keep their emotions/feelings to themselves.
  • Talk Therapy to learn interventions for grieving, learn coping skills, and process feelings.
  • Write a “Goodbye” letter.
  • Understand the phases of grieving.
  • Practice mindfulness and ground techniques.

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