What Are The 5 Stages Of Grief For A Child Coping With The Loss Of A Parent

Although the five stages of grief are fairly universal when it comes to people experiencing loss, these stages can have different outcomes for children who are grieving. It is especially important to understand how a child may cope with a loss so that you can help them through the process as much as possible; children’s development is very malleable, and so, learning how to move through major events like a parent’s death can ensure that they grow up knowing how to deal with loss, difficult emotions, and trauma.

Every child will be different when coping with grief, therefore, helping a child cope with death is going to be an experience that changes with each situation. We have compiled some valuable information when it comes to grief in children. This is what you will learn from this article:

  1. Differences Between Grief in Children and Adults
  2. Signs that a Child is Grieving
  3. What are the 5 stages of grief for a child coping with the loss of a parent?
  4. How can you encourage healthy coping methods in a child that has lost a parent?
  5. Getting Professional Help
  6. Gifts for a Child Grieving the Loss of a Parent
  7. Frequently Asked Questions
  8. Conclusion

Differences Between Grief In Children & Adults

Dealing with grief is difficult regardless of your age; however, there are differences between experiencing a loss as an adult and as a child. A child grieving from losing a parent looks different from a grown-up’s grief, and it is important to recognize these differences so that the child can get the kind of support they need during this time.


Fully comprehending what death means can be difficult for children, especially young kids; they often do not understand the permanence of death. This can make things difficult during grieving periods because they may simply miss their parent and expect to see them again soon. When their parent never shows up, this can be cause for anguish, on top of the confusion the child likely feels.

Also, because they may not understand what death means, there may be periods where they seem completely normal and feel fine, because it may seem like nothing has changed. It may take the child a longer period to deal with emotions than an adult because they do not initially understand what has happened.


Children’s brains are not fully developed, and because of this, they may not be able to regulate or express their feelings in an expected or healthy way. They might act out, and perhaps in ways that seem unrelated to the death; their sadness or confusion could manifest as anger in their everyday life or even anxiety.

Although even adults often have difficulty managing their emotions during times of grief, they have a fuller grasp of what they are feeling and why. It can cause distress in children when they cannot understand or articulate how they are feeling after losing a parent.


When an adult loses a loved one, they usually grieve because of the lack of companionship they feel, maybe a sense of regret for not cherishing time spent together, or the feeling of loneliness. For a young child losing a parent, the loss can feel like a threat to their safety; parents take care of their children and ensure security in a world where children cannot yet defend themselves, so losing a parent can be an exposing experience. Adults can also feel this, but they have the ability to rationalize and move forward, whereas a child may feel vulnerable and anxious in the world.

Signs That A Child Is Grieving

Everyone grieves differently, even children, so determining what signs you will see when a child is coping with the loss of a parent cannot be pinpointed. That being said, there are some common signs found in grieving children. Losing a family member is painful, and it is often accompanied by some unpleasant side effects. It is important to know what grieving in a child might look like so you can move forward accordingly.


After the death of a loved one, children may begin to complain about physical ailments. For example, they might begin to have headaches or stomachaches. Often these symptoms are caused by other effects of grief; extreme anxiety or depression could give children these physical ailments. You must take these complaints seriously. Even if they do not seem to be sick, they are likely dealing with other mental pains which are manifesting as bodily issues.


Similar to forming attachment issues, a grieving child may develop anxiety about the world and about losing someone else, specifically their remaining parent. This might be short-term and could go away once they begin healing from the loss, but it is important to keep an eye on this as it could carry on longer and become a larger issue in their life.


Something that happens with some children who are grieving is developmental regression; this means that the child can seem to move backward from a developmental standpoint, regressing to old habits that they had as a younger child. Some of these habits might include talking like a baby, wetting the bed, having problems sleeping through the night, or having nightmares.


Another common problem that occurs in children suffering from a loss is academic issues. They may begin struggling in school for several different reasons; they might lose the ability to concentrate; they may be facing emotional challenges like anxiety or depression; they may be engaging in bad behavior as a way of acting out; they may have a scattered attendance record following the loss. If your child is having difficulty going back to school after a loss, check out this article that offers tips for helping your child return to class.


After the loss of a parent, a child may become more attached to people or their remaining parents. This could be from the sense of vulnerability or the fear of losing someone else. They could cling more to people than they had previously; this is not a major problem, however, you want to address it so it does not continue and become a dependency for them as they get older. You want the child to feel safe and loved, but they will still need to show up in the world by themselves at times as they grow up.


Some children might experience some auditory or visual misperceptions. This means that they may confess to hearing or seeing their lost parent. This is normal and nothing to be overly concerned about unless it is causing abnormal behavior in the child, or if it goes on for a long period of time.


Some children may become excessively angry or violent, either with themselves or others after the death of a parent. This is usually a result of confusing feelings or lack of emotional regulation; it is important to understand that this kind of behavior is usually not their fault and the child should be treated with compassion. It can be beneficial to facilitate their anger in a controlled environment rather than forcing it to stop. The most important thing is to ensure they are not hurting themselves or others while they are grieving.


When a child loses a parent, a change or multiple changes in their behavior is almost inevitable. This is normal, but it is also beneficial to observe these changes and make sure that the child remains healthy and safe. Below we have listed some, but not all, of the possible shifts you may see in a grieving child.


Grief affects people in various ways. Often, the mental currents of grief manifest themselves in the body, and one of the ways this happens is through appetite. A child suffering from grief might pick up eating habits that differ from those they had previously; they might begin to lack an appetite and never feel like eating, or they might cope by indulging in food.


Dangerous risk-taking and poor decision-making are sometimes signs of grief that show up in older children. This happens for a variety of reasons; they are angry and confused. They might be entertaining ideas of self-harm and therefore do not care about their own safety. Risk-taking is usually a sign that the child has negatively internalized the emotions from the loss.


Along with risk-taking, the child may begin to engage in drug or alcohol use. This is often another manifestation of unmanaged emotions or deeper psychological concerns; the child may be suffering from depression or anxiety and uses substances to help them cope.


Some children will become more attached to people in their lives, while other children will withdraw from everyone. This is an unhealthy way of coping and should be dealt with; keep in mind that there is a difference between a child needing some space or time alone to process their feelings and neglecting everyone and everything remaining in their life.


After a loss, some kids will display a shift in their whole personality; they may begin to act like a different person and show characteristics that they had never exhibited before. While some behavioral changes are normal, it might be a concern to explore if they seem to be changing their personality; this could be a sign of deeper issues within their mind and development.

What Are The 5 Stages Of Grief For A Child Coping With The Loss Of A Parent?

Understanding the stages of grief, specifically how they show up in children, will be invaluable when dealing with a child who has lost a parent. The stages are known as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Each of these stages comes at different speeds and lasts various lengths depending on the person grieving, so although these are the accepted stages, they are not completely universal. Remember that these stages will look different from kid to kid and grief can—and often will—change over time.


When a child loses a parent, they may want to believe or even act like everything is okay. They want to pretend that life is normal. Often this is a way for them to avoid overwhelming feelings of discomfort. It can become a negative cycle because, since the denial pushes down negative emotions, it becomes harder and less likely for the child to deal with them. This can slow down and complicate the healing process.


Anger is an almost inevitable reaction to such a deep loss as that of a parent, especially as a child who may not have the capacity to fully manage their emotions. This anger could show up as blame towards others or frustration toward surviving family members. It could also stem from confusion and fear about the situation.

When a child is going through this stage, they may become more irritable, hard to get along with, or even violent. They may begin having problems at home and school due to their behaviors. Try to give them grace and help them through this difficult part of the grieving process.


When a parent dies, a child will likely feel a sense of derailment and vulnerability. By bargaining, they may seek to regain some control that they feel they have lost with the death. They may believe that, by doing everything “right” or acting perfectly, they can bring their parent back and make their life return to normalcy. Sometimes the things they think could reunite their family seem unrelated, but this can be how many children’s minds cope with the loss.

The child may plead specifically with their remaining caregiver, believing that the adult has the power to bring back their parent.


This is the stage where children often finally experience all of the difficult emotions associated with loss. They recognize that their parent is not coming back; this causes things like intense sadness, irregular sleeping patterns, lack of appetite, disinterest in people and other surroundings, as well as a deep sense of fear.

Because of the severity of the pain, the depression stage is usually the longest. A child likely will not be able to be comforted and must work through this stage at their own pace; that being said, it does not mean they should not be granted help and support at this time.


After an extended period, the child will likely come to the fifth and final stage—acceptance. They understand the permanence of the loss, but now, they try to look toward the future and the relationships they have and can build rather than the one they have lost. If the child was experiencing distressing symptoms earlier in the grieving process, they will probably begin to engage more healthily with their life and their surroundings again. The bouts of sadness and anxiety will subside, or at least come less frequently.

It is important to keep in mind that just because the grieving stages are complete, it does not mean that the child will not experience denial, anger, and depression again at times throughout their life.

How Can You Encourage Healthy Coping Methods In A Child That Has Lost A Parent?

Everyone has different coping methods during a time of loss, even children; however, it can sometimes be more difficult for kids to recognize or implement healthy coping skills because they are still developing, and this is likely their first major loss. It can be hard for them to rationalize or deal with feelings effectively simply because they are in their youth. Try to let them cope in their own ways as much as possible; it is also good to offer guidance and ensure their safety at this time.


Often when a death occurs in a kid’s life, the situation will induce a new sense of curiosity about death and dying. They will likely have many questions. It is important to understand that, while being gentle and cautious about the topic is good, the best thing to do is be as honest as possible when answering their questions. Be appropriate with the information you provide, but being as transparent as you can will equip the child with more knowledge to use in their healing process and will avoid more confusion or frustration later on.


When dealing with losing a parent, the child will need reassurance and validation—more than usual—especially with the sense of vulnerability that comes with a parent’s death. Make sure the child knows they are being listened to, that they can ask questions and talk about their feelings openly, and that they are loved regardless of how they cope.


Just because they are young, does not mean that a child cannot or should not get the chance to acknowledge the loss as an adult would. It begins with you acknowledging the loss with them, and then taking them through the steps of grieving. Let them attend the funeral or celebration of life if they wish—but do not force it upon them if they do not want to go. Although they may not fully comprehend the service, depending on their age, the memorial will allow them to experience the loss with everyone else and even give them a sense of closure, whether or not they can articulate that feeling.


It could be beneficial in the healing process to take part in one or a few memorial activities with the child who has lost a parent. This can help them express themselves in unique ways and give them a safe space to remember the love they had for their parent.

They could write a letter to their deceased parent, hold a private celebration of life, or create a scrapbook of memories they shared with their parent. We have an article with 15 Ideas for a Kid Friendly Memorial Project which are also all beautiful activities to consider doing with a grieving child.


During this time, you must be patient. Grief is different for everyone and it is not linear. The child may cycle in and out of grief; they may bounce back and forth between grieving stages. Try your best to manage your own emotions, especially when dealing with the child. Show them that they are safe to grieve with you at whatever pace they need.


Everyone’s support system looks different. Some children will have a large group of family and friends showing love at this time, while others will have a smaller group surrounding them with compassion. Regardless of how many people the child has in their circle, ensure that those people are providing love and support. Family and friends should be helping the child cope rather than threaten the child’s grieving process.


Although you try your best to help the child grieve and give them everything that you know to give, they may need other outlets or places to express their feelings. Each child’s needs will be different, and it might take some experimentation. Consider looking for a children’s grief support group, children’s grief art therapy sessions, or a children’s grief therapist.

Getting Professional Help

It is not uncommon for a child to need extra help while they grieve the loss of a parent. Losing a loved one is an incredibly difficult situation, and sometimes the support from themselves and others is not enough or may not be the right kind of help needed to aid them on their healing journey.


There are some signs or symptoms that signal that the child should see professional help; however, it is never a bad idea for anyone to see a therapist, even if it seems unnecessary. There are always things to talk about and feelings to express, especially during a time of deep mourning. We have listed a few warning flags that indicate that the child should see a professional about their grief.

Their Symptoms Continue Or Worsen Over An Extended Period Of Time

Experiencing adverse effects of grief is completely normal, and some of these symptoms can be quite difficult to get through. That being said, if the child’s grief seems to carry on for an extended period, or you notice that their symptoms are getting worse, you should look into getting them some professional help. This could include losing their appetite, having trouble sleeping, experiencing developmental regression, and so on.

They Claim To Interact With The Deceased Parent

Your child may have dreams or nightmares about their parent after the loss; this is normal, as long as they are not consistently losing sleep or being fearful because of it. However, if the child claims to talk or see the deceased parent repeatedly, and not during sleep, this could signal that other psychological issues are going on surrounding their grief and they would need professional help to deal with it.

They Have Extended Periods Of Depression

The child is bound to feel extreme sadness during this time, and it is not even uncommon to develop situational depression after an event like this. Keep an eye on it, and if the depression worsens or continues for a long period and begins to affect other aspects of their life, this would be a good time to seek professional help; you do not want the depression to go unidentified or unmanaged and become a greater problem for them in the future.

They Want To Join Their Deceased Parent

You should get professional help for your grieving child if they repeatedly express a desire to join their deceased parent. Sometimes a child will not fully understand the meaning and gravity of these statements, but this desire should still not go unrecognized and undiscussed; they may eventually come to understand or deepen these kinds of desires, and this could lead to graver concerns down the line.

They Withdraw From Friends & Family

The child may need some time and space alone after the death of a family member. If this withdrawal lasts a prolonged period or begins to affect things in their life like their relationships or their physical and mental health, you should consider finding your child a grief therapist to help them cope with the loss.

They Imitate The Deceased Parent

After losing a parent, a child may want to connect with the parent in different ways, like doing their parent’s favorite activities, going to places they would go, or maybe even wearing some of their clothes. If, however, these behaviors continue or become increasingly imitative—like the child is trying to embody their deceased parent—reach out for professional help as this could be a sign of deeper concerns.

Their Schooling Is Heavily Affected

It is natural for a child’s concentration or motivation to wane after losing a parent, and they may even have scattered attendance while they grapple with the death. That being said, if their schooling performance or behavior is severely affected or they refuse to attend, you should consider getting professional help; academic issues during grief are usually reflective of other problems going on like depression, anxiety, or withdrawal.

You Cannot Offer Them The Support They Need

Regardless of how concerning or normal the child’s symptoms seem, if you are going through an overwhelming amount of grief or you simply do not think you could be emotionally available enough to aid your child through this process, seek professional help—both for yourself and the child. It is not a weakness and nothing to be ashamed of to acknowledge that you may not be fully equipped to handle this situation; it takes bravery to reach out to others.


If you think you need to get professional help for your grieving child but you’re unsure of where to go, we have provided you with a list of some places or resources that could get you what you need. Keep in mind that a client and a therapist do not always click right away, especially for children who may be timid with strangers, so it might take a few professionals before you find one that the child really connects with. If your child is expressing that they do not like their therapist—rather than simply not enjoying therapy—listen to them and look for a replacement.

Through Your Physician.  Your family doctor likely has recommendations for you if you are looking for professional help. This is an easy way to get a therapist and one who is likely convenient to get to.

Online.  Resources are abundant out there on the internet. You could find a therapist on there that is in your local area, or you could get into contact and connect with a therapist elsewhere without having to leave your home. This might be a good way to ease your child into therapy if they are hesitant.

In Support Groups.  If your child is already attending child bereavement support groups, ask around to the other parents or the leaders of the group if they have any suggestions. Getting information from people who are experiencing a similar situation can be very helpful.

Through Your Church.  You could also ask members of your local church where they go for professional help during a time of grief.

From Family or Friends.  If you have family or friends that have gone through losing a family member, they might have some recommendations for you, or at least be able to point you in the direction of finding a good therapist for your child.

Gifts For a Child Grieving The Loss Of A Parent

If your child or a child you know is experiencing the death of a parent, you may want to do something nice or get them a gift that can help ease the pain and may make coping a little bit easier. We have given you a list below of several meaningful gifts that could be valuable to a child who is grieving.


For younger children, a good gift idea could be a blanket, pillow, or stuffed animal made with their deceased parent’s clothing. This could provide them with a sense of comfort and may be particularly helpful if they are having trouble sleeping.


For older children, you might get them a journal where they can express their feelings and write about their grieving process. Writing about the emotions they’re experiencing could have great mental benefits and may aid in the healing process. It could also help them articulate difficult feelings that may be hard to talk about aloud.


Another great gift idea is a keepsake box that the child can use to hold some special items or some of their parent’s things. You could also get a box customized with names, dates, or other writing on it to make it even more meaningful.


Gifting a grieving child a plant could be nice because it gives them something that they can take care of. They will also be able to watch it grow as they go through their healing process. Caring for plants can often be a therapeutic experience.


Whether you make it with them or you make it for them as a gift, giving the child a scrapbook with pictures and memories of the deceased parent is a beautiful idea. This is something they can keep forever and always open up when they are feeling sad, joyful, or nostalgic.


Jewelry is always a meaningful gift because it is something beautiful and heartfelt, especially if it signifies something important. There are many shops or online businesses where you could find these gifts. We have an amazing selection that could make wonderful gifts for children grieving.

Cremation Jewelry

Cremation jewelry is jewelry that holds ashes. We have a wide variety of styles, designs, and pieces on our website of jewelry that hold ashes for a child to keep their parent close to them all the time.

Photo Engraved Jewelry

Photo engraved jewelry for a child who is grieving is a nice gift idea. They can have a special piece that will always remain with them to remind them of their parent’s love. The piece can contain the child’s favorite photo of their parent or one of them together. If you like this gift idea, you can take a look at our lovely selection.

Gold Round Photo Engraved Pendant

Thumbprint Jewelry

Another wonderful type of jewelry that we offer is thumbprint jewelry. They are of great quality and they can be kept as a meaningful memory of the child’s deceased parent.

Stainless Steel Rectangle Thumbprint Keychain

Ash Jewelry

Ash jewelry is another amazing option. It uses the deceased's ashes in the production of the jewelry so that a piece of the loved one is embedded within the jewelry. It is a really special way to remember someone you loved.


Perhaps you want to give the child a new memory or something that might be able to distract them for a little while from the chaos and sadness. You could consider planning a special activity or trip. For example, you could go to a sporting event for their favorite team, take them out to the place they like to eat at most, or plan a day to go to an amusement park. You know the child best and you can decide what will be the most meaningful to them.

Grief & Children Frequently Asked Questions

How do children grieve the loss of a parent?

Everybody grieves differently. Children often experience similar symptoms to adults, but it can often be a much more confusing and frustrating time for them because they do not fully understand what is going on. Children’s grief can manifest as anger, developmental regression, behavioral changes, and changes in their attachment styles, particularly to their remaining caregiver.

How long is the grieving process for a child?

The length of the grieving process varies for everyone, and it can also become confusing to look at timelines when examining the different stages. The grief can be severe or more manageable, but it often lasts a year or more to some degree. This can be affected by several factors, such as the child’s age, the relationship they had with the parent, their support system, and their initial mental health levels.

What are the stages of grief?

There are five universally known stages of grief, though they look different from person to person: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Do children grieve as intensely as adults?

It’s difficult to judge whether grief in children is more or less intense than in adults; how children experience the stages of grief is simply different. Children may experience delayed reactions and inconsistent bouts of grief rather than a constant feeling. Children who are younger than the age of three or four typically do not grasp the concept of death, however, adolescents and teenagers can sometimes have a harder time dealing with their grief.

How do I talk to a special needs child about death?

Talking to any child about death is difficult, but there may be some differences to take into account when discussing the topic with a special needs child. We have an article that can hopefully be of help during this difficult time.

When should I get professional help for my child?

After the death of a parent, a child will experience symptoms of grief; if these effects seem severe, continue for a prolonged period, or get progressively worse, consider finding a professional grief therapist. It is not a bad idea to get them talking to a professional regardless of how they appear to be handling the situation.

Helping Your Child Through The Grieving Process

Helping a child deal with grief after the death of a parent is no easy task; in fact, it may feel impossible sometimes, especially if you’re trying to handle your own pain and suffering at the same time. Understanding the stages of grief and children’s responses to grief will be extremely helpful.

You have to try your best to be there for them as much as you can, get them more help when they need it, and remain by their side through it all. It is an immensely difficult situation, but take the advice we have offered you and get through each day with love and patience for your child.

August 2, 2023 by Jeri K. Augustus