Mom comforting teenage son displaying a typical grief reactions in children of his age.

Grief Reactions in Children

How do children grieve?

Grief looks different for each person, and children are no different. Grief reactions in children might vary from child to child. Some might want to talk about death, and others might want to be left alone. Some children might need to stay busy, while others might need to step away from activities. Recognizing these natural differences and respecting what each child griever needs is important for them to process and heal. Remember to listen to children as they tell you what they need. Below are typical differences you might experience in children’s grief reactions based on their age.

Grief Reactions in Children by Age

Grief in children ages 3 to 5

Ages 3-5

  • Does not yet understand the finality of death and may need reminders that the person will not come back
  • Expresses grief primarily through play and will not have many verbal expressions of grief

Grief in children ages 6 to 10

Ages 6-10

  • Begins to understand the finality of death
  • Has limited verbal expression of feelings related to grief
  • May blame self for death
  • Might have strong fears related to dying
  • Children might regress, display aggression, or internalize emotions that come out in physical symptoms

Grief in children ages 11 to 13

Ages 11-13

  • Has a full understanding of the finality of death but might have some magical thinking
  • Emotions may feel heightened
  • Will rely on family and friend groups for emotional support

Grief in children ages 14 to 19

Ages 14-19

  • Most closely related to adult concepts of understanding death and dying
  • Have heightened levels of responsibility for grief
  • May see acting out behaviors such as increased defiance, avoidance, and increased risk-taking activities

Where can I find help for my grieving child?

Cancer Care provides grief counseling for all ages. Our counselors use age-appropriate therapy to help children cope with the trauma of cancer. We also refer to other organizations, such as The Warm Place, that provide grief counseling. You may also view our other resources on children and cancer.


Cancer Care Services is here to help so that no one has to cope with cancer alone! Our team can help you find resources to navigate cancer and will determine if you are eligible for our assistance programs, such as gas or medication assistance. We provide in-house and referral counseling for all ages. Contact us today at 817-921-0653 or through our online Get Help form.

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