Supporting children and young people with loss, change and bereavement

Responses to loss and bereavement

Everyone responds to loss and bereavement in different ways, however, children and young people’s reactions are also likely to be affected by their age and relationship with the person whom they have lost. It is important to realise that children experience the same range of emotions as adults but may express these in different ways. Younger children may get upset for short bursts and then appear to completely forget about the situation. Adolescents can experience very strong emotions which can be frightening and upsetting for them.

Changes in behaviour and mood are normal responses to loss and bereavement. Grief is exhausting for children as well as adults.

Emotional and physical responses


  • Clinginess
  • crying more
  • jumpy
  • anxious
  • poor feeding.

Toddlers and pre-school

  • Clinginess
  • crying more
  • more tantrums
  • withdrawn
  • loss of bladder control
  • change in sleeping and eating patterns
  • regressed behaviour, such as wanting a bottle.

For toddlers and young children death is usually seen as temporary and reversible.


  • Clinginess
  • upset, crying
  • irritability, defiance or disobedience
  • anxious
  • bad dreams
  • blaming themselves
  • unsettled, difficulty concentrating
  • forgetfulness
  • changes in eating and sleeping
  • toileting or bedwetting issues
  • sore tummies or headaches.


  • Anxious and fearful for family, friends and themselves
  • strong emotional reactions such as shock, anger, guilt or sense of rejection
  • sense of shame or embarrassment
  • trying to please adults
  • hiding feelings
  • spending a lot of time thinking about and talking about the death
  • feeling isolated and withdrawing
  • saying or acting like they don’t care
  • risk taking behaviour to escape or cope
  • headaches or physical pain.

Supporting children with additional support needs by Winston's Wish.

Children’s responses to grief, and how to offer support by Cruse Bereavement Care.