How To Help A Child In The Face Of The Death Of A Relative

The end is part of life, but we keep it away. Real death is not present in the child’s life. The child is a witness to the fictional death, in movies or television series. But actual death remains remote from family life; hidden in hospitals and funeral homes.

The death of a relative immerses the child in confusion, and fills him with fears about the care he will receive in the future.

Parents should know the typical reactions of children to the death of a loved one, as well as signs that the child is having difficulty coping with grief.

Evolution of the idea of death in the child

  • 0 – 2 years: the child reacts with incomprehension and indifference to death.
  • 2 – 6 years: the child understands death as a transitory event, something mythical.
  • By age 6: the child begins to accept the universality of death.
  • 6 – 9 years: concrete representations about death start; who has died is still representable in time and space. Towards the age of 9, the death of feelings of guilt separates.
  • 9 – 11 years: the stage of the vital anguish and philosophical, metaphysical, religious, …
  • For the adolescent, death is an inevitable and universal fact. He worries about the “beyond” and may feel fear in the face of a long and painful death. You can deny your death in a flight reaction, relying on a feeling of invulnerability.

The manifestations of grief in the child

The child can manifest his pain in different ways depending on his age. Particular attention must be paid to regressions to past behaviors or school difficulties. Anger reactions are typical when the deceased was essential in the child’s life. It can manifest itself in violent games, nightmares, irritability or anger towards the surviving members of the family.

When these problems persist over time, beyond the first six months, or are manifested with high intensity, attention may be useful by the paidopsiquiatra or other mental health professional.

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The Grieving Process

Pain is a reaction to lose, but it is also part of grieving, which is the process of overcoming the loss of the person who died. Grief is a healthy process that seeks to comfort us, make us accept the loss and find ways to adapt.

People often experience painful reactions as “waves” come and go. Sometimes, when the loss is very recent, the pain is very intense. But some people do not feel that pain immediately. They feel paralyzed, in shock or deny what happened. It can take time to accept the reality that the loved one has left.

Dueling ceremonies

Ceremonies, such as funerals and homages, allow friends and family to come together to support and comfort the people most affected by the loss. These activities can help people cope with the first days after the injury and honor the memory of the person who died.

People can spend time talking and sharing memories about the loved one. This may continue for a few days or weeks after the loss, while friends and family bring food, send letters or merely visit.

On many occasions, people express their emotions during this period, for example, crying. But some people may be so paralyzed or overwhelmed by death that they do not show their feelings immediately, even if the loss is very hard. There are those who can smile or talk to other people at a funeral as if nothing had happened, but they are sad. 

Help yourself

If you are going through grief, it can help you express your feelings and get support, take care of yourself and find meaning in the experience.

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