When a child experiences the death of a loved one, be it a close relative, friend or even pet, it can often be difficult for adults to help the child deal with their loss and grief.
While children may differ on their understanding of death, based on their age and other contributing factors, it is important for parents to remain open and honest with their child. Encourage your child to ask questions about the death that has occurred and try to answer them as honestly as possible. This will assist the grief and loss process.
Below you will find some helpful hints on how to help your child understand death in an age appropriate way:
- Younger children often view the world in very literal terms. This means that adults may have to explain death to the child in terms of a body that has stopped working. Children may also have trouble understanding that everyone eventually dies and that death is final. Therefore, this concept may have to be repeated multiple times. It is important to continually explain to the child in a calm manner that the person or pet cannot come back.
- It is important to avoid euphemisms when explaining the concept of death to a child. As children think in a literal manner, such euphemisms may cause them to become fearful that when someone “goes to sleep” or “goes away” that they too will die.
Ages 6- 10:
- Children at this age often start to understand that death is final. While they may not realize that every living thing dies, and may often personify the concept of death, they are best able to deal with death when they are given simple, clear and honest explanations about the death of a loved one.
- By the time children reach their teenage years they begin to understand that everything eventually dies, despite one’s greatest efforts. When dealing with the death of a loved one, teens may also begin to consider why people die, the meaning of life, and mortality.
- It is important for adults to remain empathetic and encourage teens to both express and share their sadness and grief.
Parents can also consult with a psychologist to better support children during the period of grief and loss. Also, one useful resource available at the Quirky Kid Shoppe is the book exploring trauma: A terrible thing happened .
Information provided by the Quirky Kid child psychology clinic. Find out more about separation and anxiety at the Quirky kid website.