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What is Involved in Grief Counseling for Children?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 17, 2024
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Grief counseling for children may be important in situations when children are forced to face a painful loss. How counseling is managed may depend on the age and response of the child, as well as the specific circumstance of the loss. Grief counseling for children may be recommended after the death of a sibling or parent, loss of an extended family member, or even the loss of a beloved pet.

Children may grieve differently from adults, in part because of the fact that their concepts of death and reality are somewhat less formed. A very young child may not be able to readily grasp the idea of the permanence of death, and may be struck with profound grief and confusion over where the dead person is and why he or she can't see the deceased again. Parents may be at a loss to describe the situation accurately, or may be unable to cope with the sometimes intense grieving of children. Grief counseling for children can help educate parents or guardians in how to talk about death, as well as help children cope with the new and sometimes deep feelings of grief.

Some grief counseling for children is referred to as anticipatory, which means it may begin before a death occurs. This is often recommended in cases where there is a terminal illness in a parent or sibling that may take several months or even years to conclude. Counselors can help guide children through the often complex and contradictory feelings that accompanied an extended terminal illness, including anger, fear, and even jealousy or impatience.

With teenagers, grief counseling may have a broader perspective. Already faced with the rapidly changing and tumultuous experience of adolescence, grief may profoundly affect a teen's ideas of reality, humanity, and mortality. People may mistakenly think that the loss of an early romantic partner or death of a classmate cannot be emotionally traumatic for a teenager; some may even accuse teens of dramatizing the situation for attention. In actuality, however, the loss of first love or death of even a passing acquaintance may cause severe grief and raise important questions for a teen. Grief counseling for teenagers can help them find the validation for their emotions and experiences that family and friends may not offer.

Depending on the age of the child, grief counseling for children may involve activities, such as drawing pictures, sentence finishing games, or simply having conversations about the situations. Some counselors may recommend group therapy for older children so that they can be with other children experiencing the same issues. It is important for parents and guardians to stay involved with grief counseling for children in order to help continue the educational and emotional process in the home environment. On the other hand, particularly with older children, it is also important to grant them some level of privacy about therapy, so that they feel free to express emotions without fear of a parent getting angry or upset.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for WiseGeek. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By croydon — On Jul 14, 2014

In the modern world it seems like children are shielded from death as much as possible, which I think is a mistake. Grief and loss are going to be a part of every life and we don't do our children any favors by removing that factor from their childhood entirely.

I don't mean it should be shoved in their faces either, but there are very good picture books that deal with death in a non-threatening, but still serious way. And if a pet dies, you aren't helping your child by just replacing it, or telling them that it ran away or has been taken to a farm.

Grief is painful, but it's good for them to learn how to deal with that pain in small doses when they are children. Help them through it, rather than trying to remove it altogether.

By umbra21 — On Jul 13, 2014

@Mor - Grief counseling for ill children can be a tricky business, because they often deal with the disease by trying to remain strong for their family. And their parents are often so distraught with grief themselves, it can be difficult for the child to feel like they should be burdening them with any more bad feelings.

It's an impossible situation all around, but usually doctors will ensure that the whole family is supported in whatever way they need, so hopefully your friend had that kind of support.

By Mor — On Jul 12, 2014

I can still remember one of the girls in my school passing away when we were around eight years old. She had cancer and it wasn't completely unexpected, but it was still a tremendous blow for everyone in the class.

The thing I remember most vividly is that a lot of students were afraid of even talking to her before she passed away. She had lost her hair and the adults treated her differently and we didn't really understand what was happening. It must have been so difficult for her.

I really hope that they provided her with appropriate grief counseling while she was sick. I've never really thought about it before, but she must have known that she was going to die. If anyone needed counseling and emotional support, it was her.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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