Loss means losing something or someone that meant something to us. Grief is what we experience after loss 

Child crying in bed

Forward Thinking Birmingham logoMental health advice from Pause, part of Forward Thinking Birmingham

Loss could be losing a family member or the loss of a friendship group because of moving schools. Grieving is hard for everyone and it is usually a natural period of significant upset that changes over time.

It is common to experience the following things when you are grieving.

  • Feeling numb or being in denial
  • Being anxious and worried
  • Feeling helpless and hopeless
  • Anger
  • Sadness and tearfulness

Some people talk about stages of grief (which is when you experience these things at different times), but people react differently to loss. Grief is all about adjusting to life without the person or thing that you have lost. People’s reaction to loss is often expressed in a change of behaviour, especially if they are younger. A person’s age has a big impact on their understanding of death, grief and loss:

  • Infants have no real concept of death but they will react to some loss e.g. separation from parents can be interpreted as permanent loss of that parent.
  • Toddlers have no real concept of death being a permanent condition, but they will easily pick up on anxiety and distress from the emotions of those around them.
  • Preschool children begin to learn that death is something feared by adults. This age group may view death as temporary or reversible, like it often is in cartoons.
  • School-age children are developing a more realistic understanding of death. Death may be represented as an angel, skeleton, or ghost. This age group is beginning to understand death as permanent, universal, and inevitable. They may be very curious about the process.
  • Teenagers understand that death is permanent, universal, and inevitable. Interestingly, a predominant theme in adolescence is feelings of immortality or feeling exempt from death. Many teenagers find it hard to communicate with parents their feelings surrounding death due to this conflict.
  • Adults usually have a well embedded concept of death, however reactions to loss are likely to be heavily influenced by personality, circumstances, protective factors and past experiences of loss and death.

Coping with loss

  • Express yourself: This may be through something creative like drawing or may involve talking directly to someone who you feel comfortable with.
  • Be kind to yourself: It is expected that you will feel emotional for quite a while after loss, know that this is okay and normal, so don’t punish yourself for feeling this way.
  • Let it out: If you want to cry or shout, do it! These are normal and okay ways of grieving and can help us as long as they do not hurt others. For example, crying can be a good way of relieving the body of tension.
  • Maintain a schedule: It is important to keep some sort of structure to your day and week and to see other people, even if it is limited compared to your normal activities. This helps you stay connected with the real world.
  • Self-awareness: Sometimes people do risky things to soothe themselves without realising it – this may involve self-medicating through alcohol or other substances. Self-medicating should be avoided as it can create other problems.
  • Stay healthy: Make sure your sleeping and eating habits stay within healthy limits as far as possible.
  • Remember: Think of ways in which you would like to remember the person or thing that you have lost. Some people like to let balloons into the sky with messages on them, some people make a memory box or scrapbook, and some people join a particular charity. There are lots of different ways to remember people; it is a very personal thing.
  • Professional help: Whilst grieving is a natural process which often resolves itself over time to a point where we can pick our up day-to-day lives again, this is not the case for everyone. If you are worried about your (or someone else’s) reaction to loss, you might want to seek specialist help e.g. talking therapy (bereavement counselling) from professionals trained in this area that work with children and young people.

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  • Kids Grief: tools and information about how to talk to children about grief

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