When someone in your family dies: Helping a Child Grieve

When a loved one dies, a child may react with:

  • anger

  • confusion

  • feelings of guilt

  • physical symptoms

  • anxiety and fear

  • sadness


Following a death, children may experience powerful and unfamiliar emotions. They may not be able to articulate these emotions and this may create a feeling of isolation or separateness.

Part of the normal process of grief for children may include: demanding more involvement from adults, wishing for the deceased's return and feeling anxious when a family member is late or away. Regressive behaviour such as loss of bowel or bladder control and temper tantrums are common. Poor schoolwork and attendance, changes in sleeping and eating patterns and fears of illness may also occur. Bereaved children have a strong need to know that their world will be maintained, and that their needs will be taken care of by a supportive adult.


Unfortunately, their usual supports may have crumbled, as all family members are grieving.



Children need to know that their feelings are normal. They need to find acceptance from others as they give voice to their uncomfortable thoughts. Valuable insights are gained from identifying with their peers. Because bereaved children often worry about their remaining family, they may hide their feelings to protect themselves and others. Groups provide an opportunity for questions to be answered and fears to be expressed in a situation where they will not cause pain to family members.

Unresolved grief can sometimes be a sources of problems. Bereaved Families of Ontario - York Region can help children progress through the normal process of grieving, so that they can gradually recover, heal and return to the tasks of healthy development. Children work to put the pieces back together and face the future, knowing that death is a part of life.

How you can help

  • Children need simple answers. Listen carefully and answer directly and honestly. Use real words like death and died.

  • Don't hide or deny your feelings or your child's feelings. Accept the reactions and emotions the child expresses, and share your own feelings.

  • Talk about the person who has died. This shows that their life had value and meaning.

  • Tell the child that death and grief are a normal part of life. Reassure them that they will survive their feelings. Offer your physical presence and attention. Be patient.

  • Maintain as much stability and order in the child's life as possible. Children need to feel secure.

  • Encourage others to have contact with your child and offer support to your child.

  • Don't forget to take care of yourself.

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