Supporting Children in Grief for Clinicians: Early Childhood

How to support children 0 to 5 years of age who are grieving.

We hear a lot from folks about how they don’t know what to say or do for kids and teens when someone has died. Many folks are also unsure if a child is grieving “right.” Check out the tips below that can help you gain a better understanding of what grief looks like for children 0 to 5 years of age, what you can say to them to help, and how their grief looks different than an adult’s.

Common Grief Reactions

  • Child will respond to family’s reactions
  • Understand that changes will happen as the child gains more language (going from pre-verbal to verbal)
  • Pre-verbal reactions may be expressed in the body
  • Repetitive questions and behaviors are common

Appropriate ways to speak with a grieving child

  • Label emotions as the child gains more language (i.e. I feel sad, I’m glad)
  • Think of the little one’s behavior as communication
  • Be honest, and use child-friendly language
  • Younger children may believe that loss is somehow their fault; let them know it is not
  • It’s okay if you don’t always have the answer


  • Parent/child dyad activities
  • Reading age-appropriate books about loss
  • Feelings identification, such as matching feelings words with an action
  • Model healthy expression of emotions

Things to Remember

  • Children’s grief is informed by one’s culture, religion, and race
  • Maintain a level of curiosity with the child’s experience in grief
  • There are no “5 Stages”; grief is a non-linear process
  • Grief and grieving changes over time
Share Our Guide

Get the guide on understanding of what grief looks like, what you can say to a child to help, and how a child’s grief looks different than an adult’s.

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