Helping a Child Cope with the Death of a Loved One

Death is painful for everyone, including children. Whether it is the loss of a pet, grandparent, classmate, sibling, or parent, the grieving period is filled with emotional turmoil. For us to accept that the person is gone and to move on, we must mourn. If your child or a child you know is dealing with these complicated feelings, be the caring adult that holds their hand during this process.

Helping a Child Cope with the Death of a Loved One

Children Deal with Grief Differently

Kids understand death differently depending on their age and level of social interactions. Here is a breakdown:

Infants (up to 2 years)

They don’t know what death is. However, they are aware of the separation that death brings. They are affected by the sadness of the surviving caregiver or parent.

Pre-school kids (3 to 6 years)

They think death is temporary and thus can be reversed. To them, dying is mo like sleeping. Sometimes they feel guilty about the incidence and will want to behave better so that the person can come back.

School-age kids (6 to 12 years)

They understand that death is final and is unavoidable. They are often interested in the specific details of death and what happens after a person passes on. Some experience mixed feelings like anxiety, anger, sadness, shame, and they may worry about their death.

Teenagers (13 to 18 years)

They have an adult understanding of death, but they lack the necessary coping mechanisms. They often question the meaning of life and faith. Since they seem independent, many family members don’t give them attention. Sometimes they act out of anger and may show reckless behaviors like fighting and substance abuse.

How to Break the News

Helping a Child Cope with the Death of a Loved One

Now that you know the child’s understanding of death as per their age, the next step is to break the news. The person delivering the sad news ought to be close to them. When talking to the child about death, make sure you are not too overwhelmed to the extent you can’t control your emotions. It is in the child’s best interest that you aren’t too upset to deliver the message.

There isn’t a perfect time to deliver the news. However, don’t do it without preparing the kid physiologically. Be mindful of where you have the conversation. You wouldn’t want to tell your kid about death in a public place. Try lessening the blow of the message by talking it in a happy place like an ice cream parlor.

Should Kids Attend Funerals and Other Services?

Opinions are divided with regards to whether children should attend funerals. There are advantages and disadvantages of both choices. Attending the funeral and services eases the grief and helps kids realize that the person is gone. That way, they don’t keep expecting them to return. On the flip side, it can be traumatizing, depending on the kid’s age.

Helping a Child Cope with the Death of a Loved One

If the child will attend the funeral, go over what will happen so that they aren’t caught off-guard. Also, allow them to decide the events they want to be involved in. For instance, will the kid want to view the body? Do they want to see the cremation?