Loss can present in many ways and children will experience many kinds of loss throughout their lives. While some losses can be tragic and monumental such as the loss of someone or something they love (e.g. a family member or pet), others can be positive and include developmental and transitional stages (e.g. transition to school or to a new friend group).
Today, children are also experiencing loss related to episodes such as an accident, environmental occurrences such as bushfire; changes in their educational environment such as the transition to online learning and the loss of face to face teaching. They may even experience changes such as illness in family members or in their community.
Children will process loss in their lives in relation to their development, their age, past experiences they have to draw on and how important the loss is to them. How we respond and support them through the stages of loss will assist them to process and express the changes in a more helpful way.
So how can we help? As adults we can do the following to support a child feeling loss and dealing with changes with courage:
- Understand that children observe and sense more than we know
- Offer your time, attention and comfort in a safe and appropriate place to talk at an age appropriate level using concrete words (eg. keep the language simple)
- Listen carefully to their story, how they explain their thoughts and feelings to you which may be through talking, play or drawing
- Take note of their behaviours. Their behaviours may represent a range of strong feelings including shock, panic, anger, anxiety, confusion, or excitement and overwhelm
- Be available for questions and discussions
- Be open that every child will react differently. Offer security and predictability by maintaining family routines where possible
- Follow your child’s lead to make time to express themselves at their own pace: to retell good memories, use art or whatever medium they choose to document or tell the changes and loss with courage
Kim McGregor is a registered Psychologist with a Master’s degree in Educational & Developmental Psychology. She has worked extensively with infants, children and their families in not for profit, early childhood, specialised school and government multidisciplinary settings providing assessment, diagnosis and treatment for their developmental, cognitive, social, emotional and learning needs.
While Kim enjoys working with and celebrating all children as they grow and develop, her experience and interests include understanding the specific strengths, abilities and support needs of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, developmental delay, intellectual disability and learning disabilities to reach their full potential through comprehensive assessment.
Her goal is to always work from a person centred and family focused partnership with parents providing clear communication, empathy and support throughout the journey of understanding and helping their child. She incorporates evidence based therapies to support skill development, having trained in CBT programs such as The Cool Kids Anxiety program (Cool Kids) and the Secret Agent Society program (SAS) and in Positive Behaviour Support (PBS).
While Kim has spent most of her life in Sydney, she now enjoys all that Melbourne has to offer with her family and pets.