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Grief Reactions


Grief Reactions

3 – 5 (JK/SK) 

• Death is not final, but reversible and temporary.
• Sadness is due to feelings of abandonment and separation.
• May feel responsible for the death.
• Angry at the deceased for staying away.
• Belief that death is contagious.

Discuss what the child can concretely understand.

• Acknowledge feelings of sadness assure child that he or she is not responsible or guilty.
• Assure child that someone will take care of him or her (death of a parent).
• Assure the child that death is not contagious encourage acceptance of death.
• Talk openly about death to clear up misconceptions.

5—9 Primary

​• Begins to accept death as final but alternates with hope that it may be reversible or eluded

• Causes are seen as violent or accidental therefore, is not a personal threat if one is careful.

• Death is personified in form of person or spirit, ghosts, vampires

• Encourage acceptance of death

• Talk openly about death to clear up misconceptions or cognitive distortions

• Younger children tend to take some of our cultural euphemisms about death ("gone to sleep") in a literal sense. This can be needlessly frightening and confusing for them. Children may ask some explicit questions related to death and dying because this is the way that a child in a concrete operational stage of cognitive development masters such concepts. There may be confusion about the causal chains related to death and dying, including a tendency to feel an inappropriate sense of responsibility (I often wished my brother dead, and then he died so I must have killed him"). These aspects should be included in discussions about death with primary-aged children. 

9 – Preteen (Junior) 

• Concept of death, including the finality, is mastered.
• Death is a process.
• Understands grief of others, yet finds death funny - responds with jokes and puns.
• Normal to feel sad, angry and lonely.
• Alright to cry openly.
• Accept need to say goodbye.

Teens (Intermediate/ Senior)

• Death and loss become intensely felt.
• Search for spiritual or philosophical meaning to death.
• Often react to fear about death with risk-taking or over dramatization.
• Reality of their own death surface.
• Need clear information as to cause of death.
• Need someone who will listen to questions, fears, fantasies.
• Must not denigrate their feelings or tell them how to feel.
• Should not give superficial answers to questions to which there may be no perfect responses.


The variety of grief response in adults is extensive largely due to how previous losses have or have not been resolved. Although adult cognition allows an older person to reason abstractly, the degree to which personal support systems (i.e., friends, religion, etc.) are firmly in place can determine the nature of their grief. At the same time, adults have at their disposal a large variety of strategies which they can use to avoid grieving. The perceived need to remain "in control" often causes adults to circumvent the natural grief process. Unhealthy responses include such behaviour as:
- Over-activity                                                                                                                                                                               

- No apparent sense of grief                                                                                                                                                     

- Inertia Depression                                                                                                                                                                  

- Self-defeating behavior                                                                                                                                                        

- Indecisiveness                                                                                                                                                                                 

- Increased isolation                                                                                                                                                                           

- Suppression of all feelings                                                                                                                                                       

- Increased frequency of real physical effects