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Why do children sometimes hide their emotions after a loss?

Updated: Oct 27, 2023

Each grief journey is unique. When a family experiences a loss, sometimes the family culture is to not talk about it. Many clients have come to me seeking a space to talk about their grief because their usual support system has shut down the topic or doesn't know what to do when they start to cry. Clients have told me that they hide in the bathroom just to let out their tears in secret.

Caregivers may consciously or unconsciously send the message to children that it is time to move on. The child may not be ready to move on; but, faced by an adult’s request to do so, might resort to hiding their emotions. When kids hide their emotions around a loss, the emotions do not disappear. Grief may instead present itself in the form of angry outbursts or concealed crying. It is vital to understand that this is likely something that they are doing unwittingly: Some children may not have the capacity or understanding to connect their feelings and behavior to grief. They are not ‘acting out’; they are releasing emotions that have been "stuffed" down for too long.

Parents and teachers have a role to play in supporting a child's grief process both at school and at home. This is especially important for kids who feel that they have to hide their emotions from parents and other adults in their lives. I have worked with clients for whom it was necessary to carve out a time and place at school to have their sorrow. This will be especially true for children, who do not possess the cognitive capacity and skills to “just put it aside.” For some kids, it will be beneficial to give them permission to step out of class and sit in the hallway if they are feeling overwhelmed with emotion. Another option is for the child to do a solo assignment in another part of the room so that they can get a break from social interaction. Giving the child options is an opportunity to support their learning about self care and how to process their emotions. It is also a good way to practice youth empowerment.



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