When a child experiences loss, their reactions can be different depending on their own stage of development. The guide below gives information that can help as you support your grieving child.
0-3 YEARS OF AGE
Concept of Death | Only an awareness of separation by absence.
Reactions | Feeding, sleeping, toileting difficulties. Lengthy separation from key caregivers may lead to despair. Child may regress to an earlier stage of development, protest separation from caregiver, and have stranger anxiety. Child may have increased need for distraction, play, and stimulation.
3-5 YEARS OF AGE
Concept of Death | Child does not perceive death as irreversible and may ask “why” questions. Child believes in “magical thinking” in which their thoughts, actions, and or behaviors determine what happens to others.
Reactions | Concern about routines. May experience feeding, sleeping, and toileting difficulties. Fears separation and abandonment. Child will want to know what has happened and may feel they are being punished for “bad thoughts” and believe the death was their fault. May regress to infant needs, act aggressive, withdrawn, and/or exhibit clinging behaviors. Child will be interested in the death.
6-8 YEARS OF AGE
Concept of Death | Death is kept at a distance and externalized, associated with old age and illness.
Reactions | Child may experience rapid mood changes and exhibit a range of emotions. Child will often try to be brave and does not like to lose control. There may be evidence of learning/behavior difficulties at home and school. Play, stories, and drawings will reveal children’s inner feelings and fears. Regression may accompany stress and child may withdraw, become angry, or transform into “the perfect child”.
9-12 YEARS OF AGE
Concept of Death | Death is seen as inevitable, awareness of own death. Can give general, logical, and biological definitions of dying, death, and the dead.
Reactions | Child may exhibit stomach aches, headaches, and depression. Usually display a more stable, surprisingly calm and accepting response to death and loss. Can rationalize death and loss, think retrospectively about what has happened and imagine the possible implications for the future.
13-18 YEARS OF AGE
Concept of Death | Difficulty recognizing the personal implications of mortality because they have a sense of being immortal.
Reactions | May exhibit psychological and physical distress such as body aches and/or depression. Feelings of loneliness, sadness, despair, anger, guilt, hostility, rejection. Possible difficulty in concentration, and poor or changed motivation regarding learning. May have an excessive interest or lack of involvement in important issues.
MEMORY CHAIN CRAFT
Supplies | colorful construction paper, markers, stapler
This craft can be done with a child or as a family. Sharing and verbalizing special memories of your loved one who died can be an important part of the grieving process. Children can find comfort in hearing and remembering these stories and keeping their loved one’s memory alive. Sometimes children or teens may fear that they will forget stories or aspects of their loved one. When family/friends come together to share, it can be a positive experience.
Activity | Cut long strips of colored paper and let each person choose the color/s of their choice. Write a special memory on each strip of paper and then staple all the memories together. Spend time together sharing each memory and hang your memory chain in a special place. You can add to the memory chain any time that you would like.
Cornerstone of Hope’s Bereavement Support for children and teens also includes Individual Counseling & Art Therapy, Support Groups, and In-School Support Groups. To learn more, see the locations below.
Cleveland | Click here for more information or call 216.524.4673.
Columbus | Click here for more information or call 614.824.4285.
Lima | Click here for more information or call 419.581.9138.
For books and resources on grieving children and teens, please click here.