Grief is a natural response to a death or a loss, such as a divorce, an end to a relationship, or a move away from friends. Grief may produce physical, mental, social, or emotional reactions. Physical reactions can include change in appetite, headaches or stomach aches, sleeping problems, and illness. Emotional reactions can include anger, guilt, sadness, worry, and despair. Social reactions can include withdrawal from normal activities and the need to be near or apart from others. The grief process also depends on the situation surrounding the death or loss and the relationship with the person who died. Grief is normal, but when the symptoms are very intense or last a long time, professional help may be needed.

Signs & Symptoms

Children who are grieving may display many symptoms that impact their functioning. Some examples include:

Young children

  • Bedwetting
  • Thumb sucking
  • Clinging to adults
  • Exaggerated fears
  • Temper tantrums

Older children

  • Physical symptoms (headaches, stomach aches, sleeping, and eating problems)
  • Mood swings
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Increase in risk-taking and self-destructive behaviors
  • Anger, aggression, fighting, oppositional behavior
  • Withdrawal from adults and/or peers and activities they enjoyed prior to the loss
  • Depression, sadness
  • Lack of concentration

To learn more about grief, read the Children’s Mental Health Matters Grief Fact Sheet.

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