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Grief (Actual/Anticipated) in Children: Care Instructions


Grief is an emotional reaction to a major loss. The words "sorrow" and "heartache" often are used to describe feelings of grief. Your child may feel grief after losing a beloved person, pet, place, or thing. It's also natural to feel grief when a valued way of life is lost, such as a home, a parent's job, or good health.

Your child may begin to grieve before a loss occurs. Your child may grieve for a loved one who is sick and dying. Children often feel the pain of loss before a big move or divorce.

There is no "normal" or "expected" period of time for grieving. Grief can't be predicted. Thoughts and feelings can come and go. Grief is different for each child.

The ways children express grief are often different from the way adults express it. Children aren't always able to use words to say what they feel. Instead, they express their feelings through behaviour. Children adjust to loss and death in different ways as they grow and develop.

It's important for adults to listen to a child and answer any questions or concerns. To express their feelings, children need an adult who makes them feel safe and secure. Childcare providers, teachers, and school counsellors may also be able to help your child.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Encourage rest, healthy food, and activity. Healthy behaviours may help your child cope.
  • Comfort your child. Familiar surroundings and special items, such as photos or a loved one's favourite shirt, may give your child comfort.
  • Encourage your child to stay involved in everyday life. Don't let your child withdraw from the activities your child enjoys. Staying in touch with other children at school, church, clubs, or other groups can help your child.
  • Think about getting individual counselling or putting your child in a support group. The school counsellor at your child's school can also provide counselling and support for your child.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child makes threats or attempts to hurt themself.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child feels sad a lot or cries all the time.
  • Your child has trouble sleeping, or sleeps too much.
  • Your child finds it hard to concentrate, make decisions, or remember things.
  • Your child changes how they normally eat.
  • Your child feels guilty about the death or loss.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.