What to Expect, and How to Help, Grieving Kids and Teens

Children and teens experience grief differently than adults do, which can be challenging for adults who are trying to help. Every child won’t experience grief the same way, even within the same family—some children might experience all of these, while others experience very few. This list should give you an idea of what is “normal,” and how to help the grieving youth in your life.

Pre K- Kindergarten

EXPECT: Withdrawal, denial, re-enactment play, heightened separation anxiety, whining, crying, clinging, tantrums, regression, or fear of sleep

How to Help:

  • Provide physical comforts: rest, holding, routine
  • Assure adult protection and care
  • Give repeated concrete explanations
  • Encourage teacher/parent communication
  • Enrich “feeling” vocabulary
  • Incorporate play and play responses
  • Explain physical reality of death

Elementary

EXPECT: Poor academic performance, fantasy play, obsessive talking about incident, anxious arousal, behavioral changes, peer problems, psychosomatic complaints, attention seeking

How to Help:

  • Provide realistic information; address magical thinking
  • Encourage appropriate acting out
  • Continue to enrich feelings vocabulary
  • Normalize feelings
  • Reduce academic requirements
  • Encourage verbal and creative expression
  • Provide opportunities for age-appropriate tasks
  • Provide opportunities for physical activity
  • Provide opportunities to help others in need

Middle and High School

EXPECT: Acting out, self-criticism, fear of repetition of event/happening again, displaced anger, guilt

How to Help:

  • Normalize feelings and fears
  • Encourage group discussion
  • Reduce academic requirements
  • Resume routine activities when possible
  • Talk about relationship between acting out and the traumatic event
  • Discuss safety measures
  • Encourage physical activity
  • Provide opportunities to connect to larger community