Child Grief During Guardianship: What You Need to Know

Child Grief During Guardianship What You Need to Know

Child grief is a difficult subject – but for many legal guardians who are responsible for caring for kids, it’s a reality.

So if you’re a child’s guardian and the child is grieving for his or her parents, what can you do to help?

Related: How to get guardianship of a child in California

Child Grief During Guardianship: What You Need to Know

The courts in California award guardianship for a number of reasons. In some cases, it’s because a child’s parents have passed away, or they’re incapable of caring for the child due to physical, mental or medical issues. In any case, as a guardian, you may be faced with serious child grief – and you need to know how to help the child you care so much about.

Child Grief

Children react differently than adults do. They haven’t achieved the emotional maturity we adults have, and in many cases, they’re a little confused about what’s happening to them – both with the guardianship (“Is this permanent?”) and with what’s going on with their biological parents. In many cases, kids benefit from talking to a therapist who understands what they’re going through.

Child Grief After the Death of a Parent

If you’re the guardian of a child whose parent has died, you need to know that sometimes kids feel immediate grief; in other cases, children have a persistent belief that the family member is still alive. Many experts suggest that you shouldn’t force a child to go to a funeral – but if the child doesn’t want to go, maybe you can plan to honor or remember the person in a meaningful way, such as lighting candles, telling stories, or saying prayers for the child’s loved one.

Watch for signs of serious problems, such as:

  • A decline in performance at school
  • Acting as if they are younger than they are
  • Believing they are seeing or talking to the deceased person
  • Extended periods of depression that cause the child to lose interest in normal activities and events
  • Fear of being alone
  • Imitating the deceased person
  • Inability to sleep
  • Loss of appetite
  • Statements about wanting to join the deceased person
  • Withdrawal from friends

If you notice any of these problems, it’s a good idea to get outside help from a licensed therapist who’s qualified to work with children.

Child Grief After Being Separated From Parents

Children who are separated from their parents often experience grief, as well, although it may be different from the type of grief they’d experience if a parent passed away. Your role as a guardian is to understand the child’s developmental level and help him or her deal with the loss in a responsible way. Experts suggest not focusing on the behaviors they exhibit themselves, but the cause of the behavior instead – and in many cases, it’s grief.

Toddlers and Grief

Sometimes toddlers regress; for example, they leave behind the toilet training skills they once had. They may also have trouble communicating, particularly if the biological parent was their “interpreter,” or they may have difficulty establishing their own identity.

What you can do:

  • Pay attention to meeting the child’s dependency needs, but help him or her feel more adequate and independent on his or her own terms
  • Don’t put pressure on the child to attain new skills

Preschoolers and Grief

Sometimes preschoolers misunderstand the causes of parental separation – and they think it’s their fault.

What you can do:

  • Reassure the child that he or she isn’t at fault
  • Give plenty of opportunities to play, because that’s how kids at this age sort out their feelings
  • Give the child age-appropriate explanations for the separation

Grade-School Children and Grief

School-aged children might lose quite a bit of energy when they’re grieving, and they might believe that they’re “different” from their peers. Sometimes this causes behavioral issues with their peers.

What you can do:

  • Give the child time to grieve so he or she can focus on other tasks when it’s time to
  • Provide factual, age-appropriate information
  • Help the child come up with a way to answer questions from peers if it becomes necessary

Adolescents and Grief

Adolescents are already testing the waters and opposing authority figures to discover their own boundaries, but being separated from a parent can disrupt the natural order of things. Some adolescents have control issues, particularly when they feel that the biggest issues in their lives are outside their control.

What you can do:

  • Provide adolescents with as many opportunities as possible to be in control of their own lives
  • Let adolescents make decisions about their own futures
  • Provide adolescents with as much information as you can

Are You Seeking Guardianship of a Child?

If you’re an adult who’s seeking guardianship of a child, we may be able to help you. Call us at 209-910-9865 to set up a consultation with a Stockton family law attorney today.