Chapter 4: Preschool children’s grief
How young children experience and express grief
“She had always been happy to arrive at school and start her day. Now, she cries and cries and wants to cling to her dad when she arrives and is very distressed when her dad leaves”. - Teacher
Young children tend to express their grief through behaviours.
Click on the arrows to see some of these expressions of grief.
Regression (reverting to behaviours that they haven’t shown in some time – e.g., thumb sucking, toileting accidents, or baby talk).
Needing more affection from educators or being very clingy with educators.
Separation anxiety from a parent.
Changes in eating and sleeping patterns.
Children at this age tend to have a wonderful ability to balance joy and sorrow at the same time. They can move very quickly between intense grief responses and playing happily. Their grief often looks like puddle jumping. When they’re in the puddle of grief, it feels huge – then they jump out and quickly resume playing and join in other activities. This is normal. It’s important to recognize that a child who is playing and having fun can still be grieving deeply.
Grief is a very physical experience for young children, so they often benefit from having opportunities to engage in physical activity. Many children benefit from adults helping them to find safe ways to express their feelings physically such as by punching a pillow, kicking a soccer ball, squeezing a stress ball, tearing paper, scribbling, being held by someone, or hugging a stuffy.