What are the Characteristics of Grief in Children?

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  • Written By: Patti Kate
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 18 June 2019
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Although grief in children may be difficult to recognize, there are some typical characteristics or signs to look for. An otherwise active child may show signs of disinterest in favorite sports or activities. Other children may experience grief that manifests in aggressive behavior even if the child is typically passive and peaceful. Loss of appetite may be another characteristic of grief in children. Unexplained fears may be another sign.

Children grieve differently than adults and often a young child may find it difficult to express his emotions. In some families, boys are told to be strong and not to cry. In such a case, the grieving child may hold back emotions of extreme sadness, which can be disguised as aggressive behavior. Therefore, grief in children can often be mistaken for other issues. Conflicts with friends or peers, even bullying, can be characteristics of grief in children.

Reactions to grief vary with the individual, and this also holds true for children. Some children who have experienced a personal tragedy, such as the death of a friend, may not know how to express the loss. This may manifest in behavior that is uncharacteristic for the child. For instance, a child who is a good student may suddenly begin to fail in school. He may show signs of not being able to concentrate in class or total lack of interest in favorite subjects or sports.


Some children may exhibit a lack of energy or begin sleeping longer hours. Conversely, other signs of grief in children may be an inability to sleep or recurrent nightmares. Young children may suddenly develop a fear of the dark, or be afraid to sleep alone.

In many cases, a child may handle grief by showing signs of denial or total lack of empathy toward the situation. He may refuse to talk about the loss or act as if nothing bad has occurred. This may be a psychological behavior that acts as an inner shield to protect the child from hurt. While he may seem content and happy as though nothing has happened to change his life, signs may manifest later.

In such a case, it may help to seek grief counseling for the child. Psychologists who specialize in grief counseling for children can help a child deal with the pain, frustration and anxiety of personal loss. Grief in children, even those who seem unaffected, can often lead to serious issues that can complicate a child's life. While some children may be able to express the devastation they feel, others do not understand the emotions they may be dealing with. Professional counseling can benefit the entire family.



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