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Emotions – sadness and crying, guilt, anger

Physical signs – headache, tummy ache, changes in appetite or sleep patterns

Behavioural signs – acting out behaviour, regressing to an earlier stage of development, withdrawal

Children and young people grieve in different ways according to their ages and stages of development. You may find it helpful to look into this in more detail, especially if you have children with a range of ages. 

“My 4 year-old doesn’t seem to have reacted much after I told him daddy has died in a car accident. He cried a bit at first but then said he wanted to go outside and play. He hasn’t said anything about what happened in the days after.”

Young children don’t really understand the concept of death and although they may use the right words – saying ‘my daddy died’ – they will not understand the fact that death is permanent and that people can’t come back. As they come to realise that the person is not coming back, they may show more of a reaction.

Children dip in and out of grief – we call this ‘puddle-jumping.’ They may be very sad for a while and then behave as if nothing has happened. Parents can feel the child is not affected but it is actually  a way children protect themselves from being overwhelmed by difficult feelings.

As children get older, they follow a more adult style of grieving. Adolescents may be as overwhelmed by grief as the adults around them and find it much more difficult to become absorbed in other activities.

“I’m really worried I keep crying in front of the children – I’m trying so hard to be strong.”

Children learn how to respond to a death by the reactions of the adults around them. It is OK to show your emotions – this is how children learn to express their grief and to be allowed to cry – or not. They need to understand that when someone we love dies, it is sad and painful and tears can be a way of ‘letting the sadness out.’ It can help so say to your children “I may cry sometimes – but I will stop crying too.”


SeeSaw General Booklet

Suggested Readings
Emotional problems

The huge bag of worries

by Virginia Ironside

A compelling picture book which can be used as a spring board into what worries children today. The lively, comic-style pictures and the general nature of the worries make this excellent for any number of problems. The message of the book is clear—find someone who will listen and talk about your worries.


Young people, death and the unfairness of everything

by Nick Luxmoore

Without opportunities to talk, young people’s anxieties about death can manifest themselves in all sorts of self-destructive and socially-destructive ways. In this book, Nick Luxmoore explores the problems that arise when death is not openly discussed with young people and offers advice about how best to allay concerns without having to pretend that there are easy answers.