Grief Reactions by Age
- Sees death as temporary, believes that the person will return or can be visited
- Has difficulty handling concepts such as heaven, the soul or spirit
- Feels sadness, but often for only a short time and often escapes into play, giving adults the impression the child isn’t really grieving
- Substitutes attachment to another person in exchange for attachment to person who died
- Needs a daily routine, structure, affection, and reassurance
- Acting out behaviors include: regression, nightmares, aggression, non-compliance
- A young child will begin to examine death with words.
- A young child understands the profoundness of the event, but may not know that the person is gone.
- A young child’s primary expression of feeling will be through his/her play.
- A death affects a young child’s sense of security.
- A young child can express strong feelings in his/her sleep and dreams.
- A young child may address a loss more spontaneously than an adult and thus may “recover” from it more quickly.
- Begins to understand that death is final and permanent
- Begins to have a fear of death and of others dying
- May feel guilt (magical thinking) and blame self for the death
- Has difficulty putting problems and feelings into words
- Often asks concrete and specific questions about the death, the body, etc.
- Identifies strongly with the deceased
- Acting out behaviors include: compulsive care giving, aggression, possessiveness, regression, headaches, stomachaches, phobias
- Language is becoming a more important tool in the processing of a child’s grief.
- Physical expressions of the grief a child does not have the words to express.
- The family is a grieving child’s main security.
- Peer relationships can help to support a child through a grieving time and help to avoid their feeling different.
- School responsibilities and outcomes may be affected
- Recognizes that death is inevitable and irreversible
- May view death as punishment
- Retains some elements of magical thinking
- Often very curious and interested in the “gory” details
- May come up with own theories or explanations of the reasons for the death
- May have many practical questions about the body, the funeral, etc.
- Acting out behaviors include: aggression, possessiveness, headaches, stomachaches, phobias, defiance
- The preadolescent is a young person full of changing behaviors when grieving. Emotional turmoil is heightened by physical change.
- The preadolescent may swing back and forth in dependence support from the family to the peers.
- The preadolescent begins to engage in discussion that integrates significant events in his/her life, but physical outlets for emotions are still necessary.
- Nearing adult levels of concepts
- May worry or think about own death
- Often avoids discussions of death
- Fears “looking different”
- May question religious beliefs
- Often angry at the deceased
- May fear the future
- Acting out behaviors include: aggression, possessiveness, headaches, stomachaches, phobias, increased sexual activity, increased drug use, increased risk-taking, defiance, suicidal ideation.
- Discussion of the critical events becomes the primary means of processing grief.
- Teens may feel highly self-conscious about being different due to grief.
- Teens are self-centered and thus have an exaggerated sense of their own role in regards to death.
- Teens may fight their vulnerability in grief because it may cause them to feel more dependent on their family at a time when they are striving for independence.
- Teens are affected physically by the grieving process, especially in their sleeping and eating patterns.