Mental Health for the Young & their Families in Victoria is a collaborative partnership between mental health & other health professionals, service users & the general public.
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PROJECT EVIDENCE for Prevention of Mental Disorders. The project coordinator is Dr Allan Mawdsley. The version can be amended by consent. If you wish to contribute to the project, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
 Selective Programs are indicated for situations where subjects are at high risk of developing mental disorders unless there is preventive intervention.
[2 b] Psychological factors
i Children experiencing grief and loss
ii Children with disruptive behaviours
[2 b i ] Children experiencing grief and loss
The “Emerging Minds” website provides sensible commentaries on understanding and supporting pre-school and primary school aged children experiencing grief and loss. Those commentaries are combined here to minimise duplication. The final advice about persistent symptomatology is for consultation with the family General Practitioner; we would suggest discussion about referral to a psychologist.
What are grief and loss?
Children experience grief and loss as a normal part of life. Loss is when something ends (you or your child has ‘lost’ something or someone). Loss can mean the death of a family member or friend, or member of the community. It can mean the loss of a pet, or a relationship (e.g. divorce or separation) or even moving to a new house. It can be a psychological loss as well, such as the loss of feeling safe (e.g. due to bushfires or floods, or experiences of violence).
Grief is the emotional response to these types of losses, and may include feelings of anger, sadness, or anxiety. Grief, and the emotions that accompany it are a natural though difficult process.
A child’s experience of grief will partly depend on how fully they can understand the nature of the loss, such as the finality of a death, or the impacts of losing a home in a disaster.
How children react also depends on:
Responses to grief and loss
Preschool-age children can’t really understand the finality of death and may think that the person will return. They will often think that death is temporary and reversible. They may keep asking when their loved one will come back or where they have gone. They may even want to go out looking for the person who has died. Children of this age take what you tell them literally, so it is important to think about how you explain the death.
The effects of grief at this age are mainly behavioural and may include:
These reactions all show the child’s need for comfort, particularly following the death of a parent or someone else they were very close to.
As children enter primary school (at 5-6 years of age) many do not yet understand the finality of death. By the age of 8, children have usually shifted to an understanding that death is permanent. This may lead children to feel more anxious that they themselves may die, or that other loved ones may die. However, primary school children still have a limited ability to express themselves through language and may show their feelings of grief through their behaviour and play.
Primary school-age children may:
These reactions all show the child’s need for comfort, particularly with the death of a parent or someone else they were very close to.
How to support a child experiencing grief or loss
How should I talk to my child about death?
The majority of children are resilient and with the right support they will work through the grief and loss and be OK. However, if these emotions and feelings are persisting and causing you concern, you should seek additional support from your GP.
Last updated 6/3/2020
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