April 21, 2021

Is My Child Grieving Normally?

By Tracy Hart, LCMHC

Children tend to respond to death very differently from their adult family members. Kids Path counselors often receive questions from parents and caregivers who are worried about how their child is coping with a recent loss.

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about kids and grief.

Q: My child keeps on playing like usual, even though our loved one just died. Should I be worried?

A: It’s normal for young children to be inconsistent in their response to loss. Preschoolers and some early elementary age children have a natural ability to go in and out of their grief, so they may show sadness or anger one minute and then immediately return to playing as if nothing has happened. Older children often use play or favorite activities to distract them from big feelings, which can be a valid and even healthy method of short-term coping in the days and weeks after a loss has happened.

Q: My child is asking when our loved one will come back again, even though I explained that the person has died. Is this normal?

A:  Even up to ages 5-7, kids are still developing the cognitive ability to understand that death is permanent. You may find that your child asks repeated questions about the person who has died, which is a natural way for young children to process information. It is reassuring to children when their grown-ups can provide the same consistent answer over time.

Q:  I’m so sad about our loss. Why hasn’t our child hasn’t cried at all?

A: Typically, kids can have a range of emotional responses to the death of a loved one. You may see your child feeling anxious, irritable, or angry rather than seeming sad. Or, your child may seem largely unaffected by the loss, even if the person who died was a significant presence in their life. It’s normal for the adults and children in a family to experience loss differently and grieve at a different pace.

Q: How will I know if my child needs counseling for this loss?

A: Professional support may be beneficial for a child whose behavior has significantly changed after a loss, or when the child seems to have difficulty engaging in their day-to-day activities because of grief emotions. You might also decide to seek counseling for your child in the case of an unexpected or traumatic loss. Counselors will be able to help you determine what level of support is appropriate for your family’s specific situation.

Ask a Kids Path Counselor

Kids Path offers free phone consultations about how to help children and teens cope with death or severe illness. Call 336-621-2500 (Greensboro) or 336-532-0100 (Burlington) and ask to be connected with a Kids Path counselor.

Tracy Hart is a children’s counselor on the Greensboro campus.