The loss of a Loved One

Helping a Child Grieve

Many people do not realize how traumatic and confusing death can be on a child. Although children tend to grieve for shorter periods of time, their grief is no less intense than that experienced by adults. Children also tend to comeback to the subject repeatedly; so extreme patience is required when dealing with the grieving child.

Below we have two options for caregivers of children to help them through the loss of a Loved One or dear friend.

Helpful tips for the grieving child include:

1. Giving the child permission to work through their grief.

- Tell their teacher about the Loss.

- Encourage the child to talk freely about the Loss.

- Give the child plenty of hugs and reassurance.

- Discuss death, dying and grief honestly.

2. NEVER say things like "God took them" or the Departed was "put to sleep."

- The child will learn to fear that God will take them, their parents or their siblings.

- The child will become afraid of going to sleep.

3. Include the child in everything that is going on.

4. Explain the permanency of death.

A child's age determines how they will view the passing of a Loved One.

The death of a Loved One creates a sense of loss for adults and produces a predictable chain of emotions. The stages of grief are typically denial, sadness, depression, guilt, anger, and, finally, relief (or recovery). However, the effects on children vary widely depending upon the child's age and maturity level. The basis for their reaction is their ability to understand death.

Two and Three Year Olds

Children who are two or three years old typically have no understanding of death.

They often consider it a form of sleep. They should be told that their Loved One has died and will not return. Common reactions to this include temporary loss of speech and generalized distress. The two or three year old should be reassured that the Loved One's failure to return is unrelated to anything the child may have said or done.

Four, Five, and Six-Year Olds

Children in this age range have some understanding of death but in a way that relates to a continued existence. The Loved One may be considered to be living underground while continuing to eat, breathe, and play.

Alternatively, they may perceive the Loved One to be asleep. A return to life may be expected if the child views death as temporary. These children often feel that any anger they had for the Loved One may be responsible for the death. This view should be refuted because they may also translate this belief to the death of family members in the past.

Some children also see death as contagious and begin to fear that their own death (or that of others) is imminent. They should be reassured that their death is not likely. Manifestations of grief often take the form of disturbances in bladder and bowel control, eating, and sleeping. This is best managed by parent-child discussions that allow the child to express feelings and concerns. Several brief discussions are generally more productive than one or two prolonged sessions.

Seven, Eight, and Nine-Year Olds

The irreversibility of death becomes real to these children. They usually do not personalize death, thinking it cannot happen to them. However, some children may develop concerns about death of their parents. They may become very curious about death and its implications. Parents should be ready to respond frankly and honestly to questions that may arise. Several manifestations of grief may occur in these children, including the development of school problems, learning problems, antisocial behavior, hypochondriacal concerns, or aggression. Additionally, withdrawal, over attentiveness, or clinging behavior may be seen. Based on grief reactions to the loss of parents or siblings, it is likely that the symptoms may not occur immediately but several weeks or months later.

Ten and Eleven Year Olds

Children in this age range generally understand death as natural, inevitable, and universal. Consequently, these children often react to death in a manner very similar to adults.


Although this age group also reacts similarly to adults, many adolescents may exhibit various forms of denial. This usually takes the form of a lack of emotional display. Consequently, these young people may be experiencing sincere grief without any outward manifestations.


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