Chapter 1: How children grieve

Signs of grief

“I’m tired.” “My tummy hurts.”  “My head hurts.” “I’m starving” “I’m not hungry.” 

Many people think of grief mostly as feelings of sadness. However, children, and adults, can experience a wide range of reactions. 

Like adults, grief can affect a child's body, feelings, thoughts and behaviour. This affects their ability to get through the day and manage their emotions. Many children will experience some of the signs of grief below. Most reactions are normal and will gradually disappear. 

The bodyYour child may experience:
  • Restlessness, particularly in class
  • Headaches • Tummy aches, stomach in knots
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Exhaustion
  • Tight jaw
  • Changes in appetite
Feelings Your child may feel:
  • The world is unfair
  • The world is unfair
  • Sadness
  • Angry with person who died
  • Angry with themselves because of thoughts, feelings or actions including thinking they could have caused the death and could have prevented it.
  • Helpless
  • Less confident
  • Guilty for thoughts, feelings or actions
  • Overwhelmed by grief feelings
  • Worry or fear about their own safety and that of their family, finances and social life
  • Happy or relieved, particularly after a lengthy illness or if the person who died was a negative factor in their lives
  • Shocked, particularly if the death is sudden or if they haven’t been involved in discussions about the ill person’s decline
  • Lonely, even if there are many people around
  • Like they are going crazy
  • Numb
  • Jealous
  • Think the world is unfair;
  • Be confused about what has happened and what the future holds;
  • Have difficulty concentrating, particularly in school;
  • Become forgetful;
  • Stop caring about future;
  • Feel uncertain about how to relate to friends;
  • Be concerned about forgetting the person who died.
BehaviourYour child's behaviour may change. They may: Exhibit "big behaviours", for example being really angry or really afraid; Regress to earlier behaviours such as thumb sucking, bedwetting and baby talk; Have meltdowns and tantrums; Be hyperactive; Require more attention; Require more physical affection; Avoid talking about the person who died; Avoid reminders of the person who died; Change school performance Fixate on the person who died; Ask questions repeatedly; Seek distraction through increased use of technology or social media; Be “very good”; Yell; Withdraw; Argue; Attempt to control other aspects of life such as tidiness and how much they eat. Be disorganized.
Click on each item on the left for more detail

If your child's symptoms become severe, or you're worried they're continuing for too long, it may be time to talk with your family doctor or other medical professional.

Learn strategies for helping kids with their feelings and behaviours in Module 3 Supporting Grieving Children.

Learn when a child may need professional help in Module 3 Is more help needed?