How Children and Teens Grieve

3-5 Years

Concepts and Beliefs

  • No understanding of finality of death
  • May wonder what the deceased is doing
  • Can understand that biological processes (breathing, heart beat) have stopped but may think that is temporary
  • May wonder if other loved ones will die
  • Magical thinking and fantasies are common

Common Behaviors

  • Regressive behaviors
  • Repetitive questions
  • Withdrawn
  • Plays out death scene
  • Interested in dead things
  • Acts as if the death did not happen
  • Intense dreams
  • Physical complaints
  • Crying

How to Help

  • Hugging, cuddling
  • Reassurance
  • Maintain routines
  • Continue rules and limits
  • Include the child in the mourning process
  • Be gentle and patient
  • Allow the child to regress (for a time and with limits)
  • Encourage play and fun activities
  • Answer questions
  • Listen when child wants to talk about the deceased
  • Give simple and truthful answers
6-9 Years
9-12 Years
12-18 Years