Tuesday’s Answers: What Does Grief Look Like?

Our Tuesday Topic this week was:

I am wondering what a ‘grief episode’ might look like.  We’ve had some very serious regression the last two weeks and I am just wondering if it’s possibly grief related.  We had one day when J. was talking about his ‘first family’ for at least two hours straight.  Most of what he was telling me had to be made up – he entered the orphanage at age three.  He was very attached to these ‘memories’, though. I let him go on and on with it – maybe that was a mistake?  Anyway, that night we had a terrible fit, similar to the ones that we had during our first few weeks home.  Since then, he’s been very oppositional and defiant and we’ve had several more big fits.

So, I guess my question is: how does grief manifest itself and what can we do about it?  When do we need to seek professional help?

Thank you for your many great responses. I have included some excerpts here; for the complete responses, please see the original post.

Michelle wrote:

Oh my goodness, my son had this exact same response at 7-8 months (he’s 6). I felt like I’d lost the little boy I was getting to know! We had just worked on lifebooks and seeing photos and hearing about it all again set off such grief and anger. We’re at 10 months now and that little boy is back thankfully. We sought counseling for our son (and his twin sister) and for me too. My husband and I felt like we were at a loss and so wanted to make sure we were doing the right thing…

Jill wrote:

That sounds like grief to me. In our experience it was helpful to talk it out. Grief can also look like being a super good kid, it can also look like reserved and shy, clingy, fear or overly friendly. Of course those are also attachment issues, but getting the grief out comes first in true attachment…

Michele wrote:

Our daughters grief (age 12, home 3 years) usually appears as a basket full of lies. She will lie about homework, chores, what she said, what did did, eating, reading, memories, school – just about anything becomes a lie. Sometimes I think it is to get attention, other times it is to hide from her past (whether its her life in China or something that happened yesterday). She will even lie about good things…

Oldqueen wrote:

…We have all learned that December, around Christmas time is the very worst.. All three kids start behaving in ways they did when they first came to us. Our theory is that the foster agencies would wait until Christmas break to transition the children to a new foster home. Even after 3 years they still don’t trust that they are in their forever home. With each new experience we can at least acknowledge the behavior for what it is and address it in a more logical way. All the “firsts” are so confusing and challenging. Lucky for my daughter she has a good deal of family support..

Linda wrote:

…I think it is commonly believed that if a child moves at a young age before they can consciously remember, then they will adjust and attach just fine in the future. Well I firmly believe that my son does grieve for his losses even though he does not remember them. It simply has to affect a young childs emotions when they are uprooted and suddenly lose all that they know and love- even if they are too young to know exactly what is happening or even remember it in the future…

Shannon wrote:

…my mother denies violently many of the memories that I have CLEAR in my head. Now- whether or not my mother believes it to be true is beside the point. It is how I remember it- the important bits- and her denying it causes more pain and frustration than I can express. I would strongly suggest not hinting the ‘unbelief’…

Jillian wrote:

…Grief grabs you by the neck and screams “HURT ME! SO I CAN FEEL ANYTHING ELSE BUT THIS!” Grief sneaks snacks and purges food. Grief shuts down and regresses…if it moves forward it might forget and start trusting again or for the first time. Above all grief returns, it is beckoned by a scent, a dream, a feeling, a touch…once the tornado can be spoted…the hailstorm might come undetected, once the hailstorms are under watch the overcast clouds may go unnoticed…

Kerrie wrote:

At our house, grief looks like behavioral problems. My eldest daughter won’t talk about her first mother, or any of the events that led to her being with us, outside of a canned statement she uses when she thinks someone wants her to talk about her first mother (the canned version, by the way, contains small grains of truth while being almost entirely not true, and has the extra joy of sounding like we are bitter adoptive parents who hate her first mother and told her that’s why she’s here. Which we aren’t. And didn’t)…

Ashley wrote:

Our son is 2 and has been home 6 months. He does a lot of whining. I think it is grief and an inner unsatisfied feeling. I feel like he is dealing with something that he cannot express in words. BUT the whining makes us crazy!!!! Food, holding, play, nothing stops it!!!

Kim wrote:

Grief in our family tends to creep in rather than come in episodes. We notice one of our children is having a rough day, or I am having a rough day and after talking through it realize that we are missing the past. Grief comes in waves in our house and we ALL are riding them. Our “S” who is 5 needs to verbally process, sometimes on a nonstop basis, to move through the grief. We set aside special times to really focus on life before and started creating a grief box during those times…

If you have time, take a look at the full comments in the original post.  Also, if I have a blog address for the commenter, I’ve made their name (above) a hyperlink.  I try to take a peek at each blog and love seeing the many faces and lives represented.

As I was preparing this post, I thought I would quickly peruse Deborah Gray’s Nurturing Adoptions: Creating Resilience After Neglect and Trauma to see if I could add something from her.  I found that so much good information in the book that I have to recommend it to anybody dealing with grief and children.  If your library doesn’t have it, you may be able to request it, or if you are like me and you need to read things over and over, add it to your Amazon cart and buy it when you can.

[This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.]

Please recommend any books you have found helpful in the comments to this post and I will compile them into a separate blog post.

If you have a question you would like me to share as a Tuesday Topic, please email it to me at lisa@onethankfulmom.com

Thank you everyone!


This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Nancy
    June 10, 2010

    I HAVE to recommend Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child, by Cogen. It is full of great info from when your child first comes home through the teen years. Based on lots of research and does talk about how trauma and separation, even unremembered and even from VERY young children, is STILL DEFINITELY grieved by our children in many different ways.
    OK I’m not articulating that well. My two year olds are tugging on me for a bath.

    Thx to all for the insights on grief!

  2. Kerrie
    June 11, 2010

    In regard to the comments on early memories: my middle daughter was 20 months old when she and her sisters were placed with us. When she was four and in the thick of attaching, she screamed at my husband: "Where were you? Why weren't you there? Why did you let the police take me? Why did you let (…)?" She remembered it ALL. And she didn't understand that we couldn't protect her because we didn't know her.

  3. Jill
    June 13, 2010

    great comments. I love the interaction here on a specific question. Thanks.

    The hyper link on me (Jill) goes to Karri's blog. 🙂 the correct link would be http://www.jkdcolorado.blogspot.com

    1. OneThankfulmom
      June 14, 2010

      Jill, sorry about that! I've fixed the link and hopefully the rest of them are all correct. I appreciate you letting me know. Thank you for your comments!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

I accept the Privacy Policy