Chapter 1: How children grieve

Children: Age 11 and under

The expert says
Andrea Warnick, children's grief counsellor, explains that children grieve in chunks. (3:22)Video transcript
I've been there
Omo talks about children's ability to move very quickly from grief to play. (3:22)Video transcript

When I told them their dad had died, after crying for a few minutes, they ran off to play. I was so shocked. 

Rather than talking about their grief, children 11 and under often express what they’re feeling through their behavior.
When an illness or death makes them feel less safe and secure, it’s also common for them to revert to younger behaviour. For example:

  • Not wanting to sleep alone.
  • Being afraid to be separated from you.
  • Struggling to manage their emotions.
  • Having accidents even though they are toilet trained.

Children grieve in chunks

Children at this age tend to have a wonderful ability to balance joy and sorrow at the same time. They can move very quickly between being sad and playing happily. This is normal. It’s important to recognize that a child who is playing and having fun can still be grieving deeply.   

Their grief often looks like puddle jumping. When they’re in the puddle of grief, it feels huge – then they jump out and quickly resume playing and other activities.