It is usually a feeling of sadness, pain, and anger.
Grief is not the same as depression. But, grief can lead to depression.
Do children grieve?
Yes. Children grieve. However, children deal with loss differently than
Children tend to grieve longer than adults. They think about the loss each
time an important event happens in their life.
Children may not talk about their feelings. They are more likely to show
their feelings through behavior.
What kinds of loss do children experience?
Children experience loss after a life change, for example, the death of
a loved one or the end of a relationship.
The loss may be expected, such as after a long illness.
A loss also can be unexpected, such as a sudden illness or car accident.
Losing a loved one to suicide is especially difficult for children to deal
Children may grieve after losing a relationship, such as breaking up with
a boyfriend or girlfriend.
Children may grieve after moving.
Children may grieve after losing a pet.
A child who is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness may grieve.
How do children think about death?
Infants do not have an understanding of death but can have feelings of loss.
They may be quiet, lose weight, or sleep less. They may not respond when people
smile or talk to them.
Preschool children (ages 2-3) may not understand that death is permanent.
They may believe that the person can come back to life. They may confuse death
Children ages 3-6 may think death is a different kind of sleep and that
part of the person is still alive.
Older children (ages 6-9) may have a better understanding of death. They
understand that it is final but they often believe it will not happen to anyone
they know. They may be curious about death and ask many questions.
Children 9 years old and older begin to understand that death is final and
that it happens to everyone. They learn that it can't be avoided.
What are the stages my child might go through? There are generally 5 stages to the grieving process. Children may not experience
each of these stages. They can experience the stages in different orders.
The child may not be able to fully understand that the person is dead.
The child may refuse to believe that the person is dead.
The child may insist that the person is still alive.
The child may be angry at the person who died because the person is
causing her sadness.
The child may be angry at himself for not being able to "save" the person
or stop the events.
The child may be angry that he lost a loved one.
The child may have a hard time facing what has happened.
He may try to figure out ways to stop his pain by making promises. For
example, he may make promises to himself or God such as, "If Mom can live,
I promise I will..."
Your child may go through a depressed stage.
He may feel overcome with sadness and may not enjoy his usual activities.
Depression can last days or months. Keep a close eye on your child.
Depression that lasts a long time needs treatment.
When the child reaches this stage he is able to deal with the loss.
He accepts that the person has died.
What other symptoms might he have?
Your child may be sad for a long time. At unexpected moments, he may become
He may have nightmares.
He may stop talking. This is more common in 2-3 year olds.
It's natural to feel angry after losing a special person. Your child may
throw tantrums or be irritable. He may misbehave at school. He may be angry
with loved ones who are still living.
If a parent has died, the child may start to act younger than his age. He
may "baby talk" or he may be especially needy for affection.
Your child may blame himself for the death. He may think he caused the death
by being angry with the person or by being "bad."
If a loved one is suffering, your child may feel relieved when the person
Your child may feel physical aches and pains due to the stress of losing
a loved one.
Grieving takes a lot of physical and emotional energy. Your child may feel
Your child may constantly think about the person who died.
Your child may have difficulty making decisions as he grieves.
A potty-trained child may begin wetting the bed or having accidents.
Your child may have mood swings, being sad one moment and playing the next.
Children may deal with grief by keeping busy and being very active.
Your child may play make-believe games about death and dying. This is a
normal way for children to deal with loss.
If a parent dies, your child may worry about who will take care of him now
that the parent is gone.
What are signs that he needs professional help? If you think your child needs professional help, talk to your doctor right
away. The doctor may suggest you take your child to a therapist.
A child may need help if:
he continues to refuse to believe that the person has died.
he has symptoms of depression.
he loses interest in his friends or daily activities.
he has major changes in his sleeping or eating patterns.
he is afraid to be alone.
he always wants to be alone.
he continues to act much younger than his age.
he talks about wanting to join the dead person. Any talk of suicide needs
immediate attention and should be taken seriously.
his grades drop and he avoids school.
he starts using drugs or alcohol.
he constantly imitates the person who passed away.
What can help him?
Ceremonies may help your child. He should be invited to attend the funeral
but do not force him to go. He may want to visit the grave.
Your child may want to have his own private ceremony for the person. He
can light a candle, draw a picture, or write a letter to the person.
Writing in a journal may help.
Parents, teachers, and caregivers should spend time with the child and give
him lots of support.
Be a good listener. Invite your child to tell stories about the person.
Encourage him to share his memories of the person.
Tell your child it's okay to be sad or angry. It's okay if he cries. Encourage
him to talk about his feelings.
Joining a support group may help.
Your child may benefit from talking to the school counselor.
When a family is grieving, adults may not be able to give a child the support
and care that he needs. Ask friends, neighbors, and relatives to help out.
As your child gets older, ask him again and again to share his feelings
and his grief. Children tend to grieve for a long time and need constant support.
When should I call the doctor?
Call the doctor if you think your child needs professional help as he grieves.
Call the doctor if your child shows symptoms of depression.
Call the doctor if you have questions or concerns about your child's treatment
Grief is a reaction to a loss. It is usually a feeling of sadness, pain,
Children tend to grieve differently than adults. They may not talk about
their feelings. They are more likely to show their feelings through behavior.
Children experience loss after a life change, the death of a loved one,
or at the end of a relationship.
Children may not understand death. They may think of it as a temporary loss.
They may think the loved one is still alive.
A child who is grieving may go through stages, such as denial, anger, bargaining,
depression, and acceptance.
If your child is grieving, his sleeping and eating patterns may change.
He may act out at home or at school. He may become withdrawn or very active.
Your child needs professional help if he has symptoms of depression or if
he talks about suicide.
You can help your child by encouraging him to share his memories and feelings
about the loved one. Invite him to ceremonies that honor the loved one.
Call the doctor if your child has symptoms of depression.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Children and Grief.
1997 (cited 2002 May 24). URL: http://www.aacap.org/publications/factsfam/grief.htm
Lucas Lee. Someone I Know Has Died. What Should I Do? KidsHealth: TeensHealth.
MEDEM. Supportive Care: Loss, Grief, and Bereavement. 2001 (cited 2002 May
24). URL: http://www.medem.com/medlib/article_detaillb.cfm?article_ID=ZZZM3EJIKIC&sub_cat=387
MEDLINEplus: Medical Encyclopedia. Grief. 2002 January 29 (cited 2002 May
28). URL: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001530.htm
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