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Children and Grief: Age Appropriate Responses to Loss

teddy bear sitting by a pond

Contributed by Kelly Cox, BS, CCLS, Childlife Specialist at Community Healthcare of Texas   

One of the specialized services Community Healthcare of Texas offers our patients and their families is grief support for children who are facing the death of a loved one such as a grandparent, a parent, or a sibling. Depending on the age of the child, their understanding and response to death will vary, and recognizing these differences allows us to provide programs and activities uniquely designed to compassionately care for grieving children.

Birth – 2 years

  • Senses the distress of parents
  • Senses a change in the emotional atmosphere of the home
  • May exhibit changes in crying or eating patterns

3 to 5 years old

  • Curious about death
  • Limited concept of death and the passage of time
  • Sees death as temporary, not a final event
  • May seem indifferent
  • May express immediate sorrow and then seem to forget
  • May be fearful of being away from parents
  • May feel responsible for the death
  • May try to bring deceased back to life through good behavior
  • Able to express feelings and thoughts through play

6 to 11 years old

  • Understands the finality of death
  • May be fearful of parents dying
  • May act silly or laugh
  • May engage in violent play
  • May be self-conscious about expressing feelings and behaviors
  • May be judgmental of their behavior and behavior of others
  • May exhibit problems at school or with grades and behaviors

12 to 18 years old

  • Developing a more philosophical understanding of death
  • May avoid dealing with loss
  • May cry hysterically one minute then laugh the next
  • May be self-conscious of behaviors in the presence of peers
  • May isolate themselves from friends or act as if everything is all right
  • May exhibit problems at school with grades and behaviors

Community Healthcare of Texas currently offers online grief support groups for children ages 7 through 18 and adults. For children under the age of 7, please contact us to discuss available individual support options. For more information contact Grief Care Services at GriefCare@chot.org or (800) 958-5014.

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