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Children Experiencing Grief & Loss

What is Grief? What is Loss?

Grief is understood by most adults as a deep sorrow, typically caused by someone’s death. Loss is also the understanding that something of value is no longer present, whether it is a person, object, or routine. In a child’s development, they can experience the death or loss more intensely before reaching young adulthood. The emotions most adults already understand are all entirely new to the development of children. 


Children experiencing traumatic events or losses can display varying emotions as a way of trying to understand what has taken place

Often times these negative emotions can lead to unacceptable behaviors, such as:

  • Underperforming in school due to high levels of anxiety and stress.
  • Difficulty to interact with others and would rather be alone.
  • Avoid activities that may remind them of the person they lost.
  • May be feeling sick or irritable more often than usual.
  • May be feeling more irritable


The Five Stages of Grief

Grief is an immeasurable feeling, and unique to everyone from older adults to young children. There never is a “right way to grieve” nor the “right answer” for how it should be handled or taken care of. There has been the formulation of the “5 stages” to help guide us in identifying our feelings.


How a Child Perceives This:

Not quite understanding that a person is gone. Example: Being told that grandpa has passed away and then later the child asking when Grandpa will come to the house. 


How a Young Adult Perceives This:

Experiencing the loss of a loved one, and trying to process the person or thing is actually gone. Things can become meaningless or overwhelming


How a Child Perceives This:

During this stage, might blame others for their struggles in completing tasks. More irritable, angry, difficult to express feelings.


How a Young Adult Perceives This:

In this phase, oftentimes faith is questioned, abandonment is felt, anger towards life and death.


How a Child Perceives This:

Kids start seemingly doing things “just right” believing that if they do things correctly it will change the loss that has occurred. Negotiation to make the pain hurt less. Example: Schoolwork may begin to improve dramatically. 


How a Young Adult Perceives This:

"What if?" scenarios will occur, wondering if that could’ve changed the outcome. In some situations feeling guilty for living.


How a Child Perceives This:

In this stage, they may experience intense sadness, decreased sleep, reduced appetite, and loss of motivation.


How a Young Adult Perceives This:

Withdrawal occurs, isolation, they may lose interest in daily activities. A person will feel intense sadness. Feeling like it will go on forever. 


How a Child Perceives This:

In this stage, kids are able to accept and understand the loss of a loved one and may resume normal activities 


How a Young Adult Perceives This:

Understanding the reality that a loved one is gone. Not necessarily being ok with the situation but able to return to normal life. 



Martin Lytje PhD & Atle Dyregrov PhD (2019) The price of loss – a literature review of the psychosocial and health consequences of childhood bereavement, Bereavement Care, 38:1, 13-22, DOI: 10.1080/02682621.2019.1580854

Cohen, J. A., & Mannarino, A. P. (2011). Supporting children with traumatic grief: What educators need to know. School Psychology International, 32(2), 117–131.

Grief and Children. Published 2018. Accessed November 7, 2020.  4) American Academy of Pediatrics. (2020). Resilience in the Face of Grief and Loss.