Coping With Grief at Different Ages
By Nicole Krueger
Age makes a tremendous difference in how grief affects
us. Understanding how grief manifests in people
differently at various stages in their lives can help
you determine how best to reach out and provide the help
that is needed.
Coping strategies vary drastically depending on the
child's developmental stage.
Infants (0 to 3)
Children this young are not yet able to understand
death. However, they can sense feelings of grief in the
adults around them, and they may imitate or soak up
those emotions. Babies can also react to the loss of a
caregiver with increased crying, listlessness, and
changes in sleeping and eating habits. Young children
may revisit the experience later as they go through
different developmental stages.
Young children (3 to 6)
At this age, children may become curious about death,
but they still aren't able to understand it as final.
They may internalize it, believing they caused the death
by misbehaving. Regression, or returning to younger
behavior like bedwetting and baby talk, is common, as is
fear of abandonment.
School-aged children (6 to 12)
These children are old enough to understand the finality
of death, but they may not be able to put their emotions
into words. Instead, some school-aged children complain
of stomachaches or other physical ailments. They are
also highly interested in the biological aspects of
death and may ask a lot of questions.
Although they are between childhood and adulthood,
teenagers have the same capacity for understanding grief
as adults. This can cause confusion about how to react -
whether to exhibit sadness and emotional neediness like
a child, or act brave and strong like an adult. Many
teenagers fear appearing weak or childish, so they may
be reluctant to ask adults or peers for help.
As a result, many teenagers try to bottle up their
feelings instead of airing them. Additionally, grief can
cause teenagers to struggle with their own feelings of
invincibility. The death of a loved one may also cause
them to question their spiritual beliefs and their
understanding of the world.
Adults who are coping with grief tend to re-evaluate
their lives, look for meaning in the world, and
contemplate their own deaths. Some adults will manage
their grief by preoccupying themselves, while others may
temporarily lose their ability to function.
Normal symptoms of grief, such as irritability,
restlessness, changes in personality, and numbness or
sadness, tend to lessen in about six months, although
the entire grieving process can go on for two or more
Grief manifests a bit differently in the elderly than it
does in the middle-aged. At this time in their lives,
the elderly are no longer focused on looking forward to
future milestones, but are spending much more of their
attention reflecting on the past.
With age, the number of deaths in a person's life
increases, and facing these multiple losses in a brief
period can be overwhelming. In many cases, the elderly
are already dealing with losing their occupation,
familiar home environment, and physical and possibly
mental capacity. Sometimes, older people may become so
overwhelmed they find themselves unable to grieve.
Regardless of age, grief is something that must be
worked through. There is no way to speed up the process,
but having a healthy support network can make a huge
~Nicole Krueger, 2009
Find out more about helping children cope with grief in
a healthy and nurturing way by reading the Valley of
Life ebook, A Guide to Children and Grief. Valley of
Life is a free online memorial and grief resource web