Grief in Development Stages

Grief is a normal reaction to the death of a loved one, which is experienced across cultures. Grief can manifest in many ways, based on the bereaved person’s developmental stage, family/cultural norms, relationship with the person who died, and many other factors. 

Below is information intended for caregivers regarding 1) what grief might look like for youth in different developmental stages and 2) what caregivers can do to help youth through the grieving process. 

Ages 2-5

Common reactions to loss of loved one

  • Often thinks the person who died is going to return
  • May not remember the person who died
  • Fluctuating between sadness and normal play
  • Increased bedwetting
  • Acting out
  • Aggressive behavior

What Parents can do to Help

  • Keep the routine and structure
  • Provide simple and honest answers to questions – it’s OK to say the person died
  • Reassure that they are not to blame

Ages 6-9

Common reactions to loss of loved one

  • Complaints of aches and pains
  • Increased caregiving behavior (toward other family members)
  • Worries about other people dying
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Separation anxiety

What Parents can do to Help

  • Provide ways for kids to express their feelings (art, talk, music, writing, etc.)
  • Honest answers
  • Validation of feelings

Ages 10-12

Common reactions to loss of loved one

  • Separation anxiety
  • Denial
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Decreased academic performance
  • Trying to be a “fixer”
  • Blaming others for loss

What Parents can do to Help

  • Validate feelings
  • Provide outlets for expression of feelings
  • Make sure the your child knows that he/she can speak to trusted adults

Ages 13-18

Common reactions to loss of loved one

  • Low mood
  • Frequent sadness related to memories of loved one
  • Aggression
  • Increased risk-taking
  • Anger toward people perceived to be responsible for death (ex: doctors)

What Parents can do to Help

  • Be willing to discuss the death and the adolescent’s feelings about it
  • Provide information about what the grief process might look like
  • Encourage maintenance of support system (contact with family, friends, teachers, other loved ones)
  • Connect the adolescent with school counselor/therapist if possible
  • Try to facilitate fun family activities
  • Set clear limits if you notice destructive behavior



Christ, G. H., Siegel, K., & Christ, A. E. (2002). Adolescent grief: It never really hit me… until it actually happened. Jama, 288(10), 1269-1278.


By: Jordan Levine, PsyD, Supervised by Misti Nicholson, PsyD

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