How do children experience grief

“If you old enough to love, you are old enough to grieve”

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.

Children also grieve as part of a family and this can directly affect a child’s day-to-day life. They grieve for the person who has died and an environment that gave them routine and security. Family routines and roles can change, and these changes can be an added disruption and add to a child’s distress.

Grief responses

What reactions do children display when grieving?

Children, like adults are deeply affected by loss and grief experiences, and whilst everyone grieves differently there are common responses or grief reactions that children may display. These reactions will be varied and may reflect age, developmental stage, cultural background, previous experience of loss and available support.

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.

In an article “Signs of Grief in Children and How to Help Them Cope” on website,  Amy Morin, a psychotherapist, discusses how children grieve differently to adults and the grief reactions that manifest in children.

The illustrations below depict some of the many children’s grief reactions. Click here to read more about each of these grief reactions.

Signs that a child could be grieving

Difficulty concentrating

Problems with sleeping

Clinginess, anxiety, or feeling abandoned

Developmental regression

Changes in behaviour or play

Feelings of guilt