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Grief By Age

At first, you may think that grief is the same experience for everyone, but that is far from true. Grief is unique to the individual and is experienced differently for everyone.

Bereavement is not an easy experience at any age, but often people think that certain age groups don't truly grieve because it doesn't look the same as an adult's grief. That couldn't be further from the truth. Everyone experiences grief and every individual experience is different, so all grief will be different.

Not every person will experience immense pain for a long time or be able to overcome their grief without professional support, and that is OKAY. No one person or relationship is the same, so everyone expects the grieving process differently. However, some responses to grief are common at specific ages.

Grief Responses in Children

How might children display signs or symptoms of grief? Children, especially preschool-aged, may not show any apparent signs of distress as adolescents or adults would. It can be challenging for parents to know if their child’s changes in behavior are due to loss and grief or perhaps a regular part of development.

Grief in children often looks very different from grief in adults, but they do feel it, sometimes very acutely. If you see signs that your child is grieving, it may be helpful to seek professional help to ensure they are processing these emotions in a healthy, age-appropriate way.

Potential indicators of grief in children:

  • Temper tantrums

  • Frequent crying

  • Clinging to caregivers

  • Repeatedly asking where the deceased person is or when they will be back.

  • Nightmares

  • Physical complaints (stomachache)

  • Changes in sleep and appetite.

  • Trouble focusing

  • Social withdrawal

Grief Counseling & Treatment for Children

Suppose a child has experienced a loss and displays any of the above-listed behaviors. In that case, it may be beneficial to seek out treatment. A grief counselor or mental health professional can assist your child with understanding, processing, and accepting their grief. These services are provided through individual counseling in schools, offices, or telehealth settings. Grief counselors use several interventions and techniques that focus on treatment for grief.

Grief therapy for children may involve:

  • Worksheets and activities to understand emotions and learn how to identify them.

  • Use arts, crafts, and games to help express and process emotions.

  • Building and practicing coping skills to self-regulate emotions.

  • Learning how to communicate hard feelings.

  • Validating emotions and experience with grief.

  • Additional support outside of home and school.

  • Replacement of inappropriate behavior/responses with adaptive ones.

Grief Responses in Adolescents

Adolescent years come with many developmental stressors. When something as devastating as the death of a loved one occurs, it can undoubtedly intensify and complicate the emotional challenges we expect during adolescence. Adolescents can communicate emotions and recognize grief; however, they may not be willing to share these sorts of things with others, particularly parents. Adolescents tend to keep difficult emotions hidden. Caregivers need to be aware of potential signs suggesting that your adolescent struggles with grief after a loss.

Potential signs to watch out for:

  • Risky behaviors, high risk-taking.

  • Behaving as caretaker to others.

  • Self-harming

  • Suicidal ideation

  • Perfectionism

  • Low energy

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Fear/Appearing afraid

  • Hyper-vigilance/ sensitivity

  • Social withdrawal

  • Problematic behaviors at school, home, or in relationships.

Grief Counseling & Treatment for Adolescents

If your adolescent-aged child has experienced a loss and displays any of the above-listed behaviors, seeking professional help may be necessary. If you’re concerned about how your adolescent is coping with a loss or grief and believe counseling may be beneficial, please do not hesitate to seek treatment.

Grief counseling for adolescents can provide a safe, supportive, and validating environment to work through difficult emotions associated with grief. Additionally, it’s important to note that a mental health professional should see adolescents who may be self-harming or experiencing suicidal ideation. Services for adolescents most often involve individual or group therapy in offices, schools, or telehealth.

Adolescent grief looks similar to adult grief, but during the teenage years, with added social pressures and heightened hormones, grief can become a much larger beast. Some teens may even experience depression or suicidal thoughts as a result of a loss. It is best to stay alert for signs that your teen is not processing their emotions in a healthy way, and to reach out for professional help if the behavior persists.