Children’s grief – what to expect

Children and young people’s experience of grief can differ from adults. Even the very young grieve but often we do not recognise the signs and often their grief is very changeable or unpredictable, or they only connect with it at certain times such as just before bedtime. This is normal because they need to continue to  engage with the positive aspects of life whilst still grieving.

Birthdays, anniversaries, time of change, stress or other pressures can trigger their grief as well as times when they are still or quiet- such as before bed when reminders of their loss are hard to manage. Being patient, consistent in our explanations and accepting of their reactions will make a big difference but this may continue over quite some time. Their grief may resurface when you are not expecting it to. They may also be very affected by other people’s grieving styles

Understanding how others grieve
When they see adults grieving, or grieving differently to them they can feel guilty that they do not act the same way or worried  and anxious about how the adults are reacting. They can feel that they are making the situation worse by talking about the person who has died. Reassure them that it is normal for people to grieve in different ways and continue to give them comfort, good consistent information and explanations. This will help them feel safe, less confused and make it easier for them to manage their strong emotions.

Managing their emotions:

Young children find it hard to recognise and express their emotions appropriately. This is because their brains and bodies are developing and they do not have the experience, skills or words to be able to express themselves well all of the time. It is normal, in grief for them to find it more difficult to manage their emotions.

They might:

  • cry more often and become upset and frustrated by small challenges
  • become angry more easily
  • feel more anxious or worried about a lot of things
  • seek comfort and reassurance in doing things as if they are much younger again
  • lack confidence and need more reassurance
  • find it hard to concentrate at school
  • have more difficulties with friendships for a while

All of these reactions are normal in the days and weeks after a death. If they are continuing after 3-4 months and you have tried to support them in the ways suggested on this website it may be time to seek further help. See Getting extra help

Further information about children’s grief:



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