The grief of a child who has suffered a loss is more complex than that of an adult. Children not only experience grief at the time of their loved one’s death, but relive the grief cycle repeatedly through each developmental phase of their childhood and adolesense. Imagine a five year old child who has suffered a loss; at that developmental stage they believe the person can still come back to life. In later developmental stages the child relives the death and realizes that death is permanent and recognizes their own mortality and that of those around them. Each stage can bring an intense level of suffering for the child.
Studies have shown that children who are not supported in the early phases of grieving often develop serious emotional and behavioral problems. And research also shows that participation by children, aged 7–11, in early prevention support programs for bereaved children experienced a significant decrease in symptoms.
One out of every 20 children aged fifteen and younger will suffer the loss of one or both parents. These statistics don’t account for the number of children who lose a “parental figure,” such as a grandparent or other relative that provides care. Family and friends are often focused on the parents’ grief which adds to the children’s sense of isolation and abandonment. It is estimated that 73,000 children die every year in the United States. Of those children, 83 percent have surviving siblings.
For a grieving student just showing up to the classroom can be a major challenge. 7 out of 10 teachers currently have at least one student in their class(es) who has lost a parent, guardian, sibling, or close friend in the past year. These grieving children typically exhibit:
Yet despite these astounding statistics, support services for grieving children are not widely available and often transitory. Unfortunately, there is no government or insurance funding and as a result, these programs are only possible because of the generosity of donors and volunteers.