How children experience grief

Let’s bust some myths about childhood grief

Talking about death and dying is so often a taboo topic, resulting in numerous myths being perpetuated about grief, including childhood grief. Throughout the remainder of this course, we will ask the important questions, dispel the myths, and focus on the realities of how children experience loss, grief and bereavement.

Some of these myths are listed below.



Young children do not grieve. All children grieve.
Children do not grieve as much as adults. Children express grief differently but experience it just as intensely.
Children are lucky because they are too young to understand the meaning of death, so they do not fully grieve. Children are vulnerable in their grieving.
Children can resolve grief quickly. Children’s grief has no time limits.
Children should be protected from pain and suffering to maintain their innocence. Children cannot be protected from death in play, the media, or life experiences.
Children and adolescents understand, experience, and express grief identically. Children and adolescents are developmentally distinct.

Grief is not a linear process

Look at the images below.

Which one of these images depicts how you may have processed your own grief experience? Was it a linear process of moving through stages or tasks or did it feel as if you were all over the place?

Do you think the grief process is experienced mostly like the ball of string with a few ups and downs along the way OR is it more like the ball of tangled coloured wool where it is hard to determine the beginning or the end?

Just like adults, children do not process or move through their grief in a linear pattern.

Ways in which children experience grief

Children, like adults, experience grief – whether it is linked to the loss of a loved one or linked to their own diagnosis and probable death and what that means to them.

Children grieve differently to adults. Children’s understanding of health, illness, death and dying go through stages according to their developmental age and stage.  The stage of a child’s understanding will also depend on their own previous experiences with death and grief. Even though children will grieve differently to adults, they will still experience many of the same reactions and responses as adults. Grief may also be revisited over time as children work through their loss and as they reach their next developmental stage. This is often referred to as re-grief.

A broad range of feelings, thoughts and behaviours can be experienced by the person who is grieving and include:

  • Physical symptoms
  • Feelings and thoughts
  • Behavioural responses

Following loss, children experience these same full range of physical symptoms and emotions as adults, but their process of thinking, understanding, and ways of expressing these feelings is very different.

Hover over each of these boxes below for a detailed list of these symptoms, feelings and thoughts and behavioural responses experienced.

Feelings and thoughts

Feelings include:


Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms include:

Dry mouth
Loss of energy
Loss of appetite
Ongoing nausea

Behaviourial responses

Behavioural responses and reactions include:

Mood swings