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Grief (Actual/Anticipated) in Children: Care Instructions


Grief is an emotional reaction to a major loss. The words "sorrow" and "heartache" often are used to describe feelings of grief. Your child may feel grief after losing a beloved person, pet, place, or thing. It's also natural to feel grief when a valued way of life is lost, such as a home, a parent's job, or good health.

Your child may begin to grieve before a loss occurs. Your child may grieve for a loved one who is sick and dying. Children and adults often feel the pain of loss before a big move or divorce. This type of grief helps your child get ready for a loss.

Grief is different for each person. There is no "normal" or "expected" period of time for grieving. Some people adjust to their loss within a couple of months. Others may take 2 years or longer, especially if their lives were changed a lot or if the loss was sudden and shocking.

Grieving can cause problems such as headaches, loss of appetite, and trouble with thinking or sleeping. Your child may withdraw from friends and family and behave in ways that are unusual. Grief may cause your child to question beliefs and views about life.

Grief is natural and does not require medical treatment. It may help to talk with people who have been through or are going through similar losses. Your child may also want to discuss feelings of grief with a counsellor. Talking about the loss, sharing cares and concerns, and getting support from others are important parts of healthy grieving.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Make sure your child gets enough sleep. The mind helps make sense of life during sleep. Missing sleep can lead to illness and make it harder for your child to deal with grief.
  • Have your child eat healthy foods. Try to avoid foods that only give comfort.
  • Make sure your child gets some exercise every day. Even a walk can help your child deal with grief. Other activities, such as playing outside, can also help your child manage stress.
  • Comfort your child. Take time with your child to look at photos or use special items that make you both feel better.
  • Encourage your child to stay involved in everyday life. Don't let your child withdraw from the activities your child enjoys. Staying in touch with other children at school, church, clubs, or other groups can help your child get through the period of grief.
  • Think about getting individual counselling or putting your child in a support group to help your child deal with grief. There are many support groups to help children recover from grief. The school counsellor at your child's school can also provide counselling and support for your child.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • Your child feels that life is meaningless, or your child thinks about killing himself or herself.
  • Your child has any of the following problems that last for 2 or more weeks:
    • Your child feels sad a lot or cries all the time.
    • Your child has trouble sleeping, or sleeps too much.
    • Your child finds it hard to concentrate, make decisions, or remember things.
    • Your child changes his or her normal eating habits.
    • Your child feels guilty about the death or loss he or she has suffered.

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.