The grief of a child who has suffered a loss is more complex than that of an adult. Children not only experience grief at the time of their loved one’s death, but relive the grief cycle repeatedly through each developmental phase of their childhood and adolescence. Imagine a five year old child who has suffered a loss; at that developmental stage they believe the person can still come back to life. In later developmental stages the child relives the death and realizes that death is permanent and recognizes their own mortality and that of those around them. Each stage can bring an intense level of suffering for the child.

For a grieving student just showing up to the classroom can be a major challenge. 7 out of 10 teachers currently have at least one student in their class(es) who has lost a parent, guardian, sibling, or close friend in the past year. These grieving children typically exhibit:

  • Difficulty concentrating in class (observed by 87% of teachers)
  • Withdrawal/disengagement and less class participation (observed by 82%)
  • Absenteeism (observed by 72%)
  • A decrease in quality of work (observed by 68%)
  • Less reliability in turning in assignments (observed by 66%)

Major studies have shown that children who are not supported in the early phases of grieving can develop serious emotional and behavioral problems that may lead to the development of major psychiatric disorders including depressive and anxious symptoms and syndromes, and prolonged grief disorder (PGD), previously named complicated grief. Research also shows that participation by children, aged 7–11, in early prevention support programs for bereaved children experienced a significant decrease in symptoms.

Learn more about the need for childhood bereavement services.


Grieving in Schools: Nationwide Survey among Classroom Teachers on Childhood Bereavement Conducted by New York Life Foundation and American Federation of Teachers, 2012

Decreasing the Risk of Complicated Bereavement and Future Psychiatric Disorders in Children. Kathleen M. Kirwin MSN, APRN, CNS, BC1,* and Vanya Hamrin MSN, APRN, CNS, BC2 – Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing April 2005

Bonanno GA, Neria Y, Mancini A, Coifman KG, Litz B, Insel B (2007) Is there more to grief than depression and PTSD? A test of incremental validity. J Abn Psychol 116:342–351

Prigerson HG, Horowitz MJ, Jacobs SC, Parkes CM, Aslan M, Goodkin K, Raphael B, Marwit SJ, Wortman C et al (2009) Prolonged grief disorder: psychometric validation of criteria proposed for DSM-V and ICD-11. PLoS Med 6(8):e1000121

Shear MK, Simon N, Wall M, Zisook S, Neimeyer R, Duan N et al (2011) Complicated grief and related bereavement-issues for DSM-5. Depression Anxiety 28:103–117