Losing a Family Member at a Young Age

Losing a family member at a young age is particularly difficult — children may not fully understand what is going on, and young adults may struggle to find someone who understands them. As a parent or an older relative, you may feel the need to understand a child’s emotions and how to support them. For anyone looking to support a child in mourning, the Let Your Love Grow team has compiled some grief tips fit for every developmental stage. 

Loss for Young Children

Young children typically fall into the 0-4 age range. Typically, this group doesn’t understand the concept of death — however, grief can still impact them in unique ways. Young children still feel loss, abandonment and insecurity after losing a family member at a young age. Grief can display itself through:

  • Mood changes. Children may experience mood changes after the loss. A young age group may be unable to vocalize their feelings so they may cry more often. 
  • Searching for the person who has passed. Babies and toddlers form attachments early in life — if the recently departed was a big part of their life, they may still search for them. 
  • Regression in milestones. Some children may begin bedwetting, crawling instead of walking or demanding a pacifier or bottle. While regression may be particularly concerning for some parents, you should understand that the behavior is likely temporary. 

You can help young children sort through their complicated feelings by keeping a calm demeanor and making them feel safe through hugs, holding and other forms of support. If your child is old enough to understand, consider explaining death in simple terms and reassure them that you will always be there for them. Routines can be very helpful for this age group. One of our favorite grief tips is filling each day after losing a family member with activities. Regular meals, daycare and family time may help a young child feel secure. 

Loss for School-Aged Children

School-age children fall into the 5-12 age range. This group is more likely to understand the concept of death and may vocalize their feelings a bit more. Grief for school-aged children may come in the form of:

  • Mood changes. School-aged children may showcase their emotions through crying, temper tantrums and clinginess. 
  • Changes in habits. A grieving child may lose interest in their favorite foods, activities and topics. Though likely temporary, it’s worth monitoring. 
  • Withdrawal. Some children try to stay strong for their family — your child may withdraw from speaking, interacting with family members or spending time with friends. 

As a parent, you can help support your child by explaining death as a part of life. Take the time to talk them through their feelings after losing a family member and reassure them of the future by spending time with them. As you read through these grief tips, remember: You are ultimately their most influential support system through a life-changing experience. Take this time as an opportunity to support them and encourage healthy habits. 

It may be beneficial to incorporate memories into their routine. Scrapbooking, home videos and memorial plants are all great ways to bring the memory of your loved one back into the home. 

Loss for Teens

Children 13 and older are at a complicated stage of development — losing a family member will be particularly hard on them. Parents can expect them to cycle between childish behaviors and adult reactions. You may see grieving teens display: 

  • Avoidance. Teens tend to lean on their friends rather than their family members. Avoidance could mean they want to be out of the house often or spend a lot of time on their phone. 
  • Isolation. Some teens simply want to be alone after a loss — you may see your child spend extra time in their room. 
  • Inappropriate jokes. Some teenagers use humor as a coping mechanism rather than addressing their feelings. 
  • Acting out. In a particularly concerning turn, some teenagers may lash out at family members or engage in risky behaviors to distract themselves. Risky behavior may include drug abuse, alcohol use or sexual activity. 

One of the most important grief tips for parents is respecting their boundaries after losing a family member, while making it clear that you will always be there for them. Engage in honest conversations about the funeral process and share how you are experiencing grief to open a space where they feel comfortable sharing their feelings. We recommend you keep an eye out for the signs of depression and turn to a professional if you are concerned for their wellbeing. 

Create Memories After Losing a Family Member

Losing a loved one is difficult at any stage of your life. Whether your family lost a family member or a beloved pet, we're here to help you through the healing process with memorial alternatives. For more grief tips to help you navigate life after loss, visit our blog

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