Chapter 1: How children grieve

Youth: Age 12 – 18

The expert says
Camara Van Breemen, nurse practitioner, talks about the commonalities and differences between children's grief and teen grief.(3:22)Video transcript

Jalil's friends were his preferred source of support but I worried about whether they could give him the help he needed.


Children at this stage don’t move in and out of grief as quickly as young children. Some are so overwhelmed by the intensity of their feelings that they try to avoid them or shut them off. Others worry that they aren’t “feeling enough.” Their grief can seem unpredictable and even explosive at times. They may be withdrawn one minute and incredibly angry the next. Their reactions, such as an argument with a sibling or caregiver, can seem unconnected to the illness or death.

Concern for the future

They commonly focus on how the illness or death will affect their daily life and their future: 

FinancesWill they have to move? Can they still afford school supplies? hockey? music lessons? Will they have to find a job to contribute to the family income?
Responsibilities Will they have to care for younger brothers and sisters or an ill family member? Will cleaning the house or other chores fall to them?
Social lifeWill they be able to see their friends as often? Will they still be able to attend movies, concerts and school field trips with their friends? Will they see certain members of their family less?
FamilyIf a parent or caregiver dies, will the remaining parent be able to manage all of the responsibilities? Who will care for them?
Click on each item on the left for more detail
These concerns may seem selfish but are typical for this age.   

The friend factor

Children at this stage are becoming more independent and focused on friendships. Many prefer to express their grief privately or with their friends. However, they may find that their friends “just don’t get it.” As a result, many end up doing much of their grieving in isolation.

Adults can find it very challenging when their children don’t share thoughts and feelings with them. You may wonder: Is my child grieving at all? 

Keeping the door open

Try to remember that they’re grieving while their brains are experiencing a great deal of change. They are also navigating the new expectations that come with growing up. Lines of communication can be kept open with patience, understanding, and reminders that you love them and are available for them.