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Children’s Responses to Grief By Age

Children react to death in different ways depending on the age they are. Here are some ideas as to how they may be feeling and how you can tailor your behaviour to help them through this difficult time:


- Understand the concept of death
- May want reassurance and encouragement
- May feel isolated from friends
- May think no-one understands how they feel
- May only want support from friends rather than family
- May want to be help out with the funeral
- May challenge the explanations of death offered by others
- May struggle to understand their place in the world
- May withdraw from the family unit
- May develop strong beliefs about death
- May feel a burden to their parents when they are struggling themselves
- May hide their emotions through jokes
- Struggle asking for support and help as they want to show independence
- May become aggressive or angry
- May lose their confidence with the outside world
- May struggle express the wide range of intense emotions they are feeling
- May blame themselves
- May struggle to fully comprehend life without their loved one
- May lose sight of their place in the world
- Might feel suicidal
- May become more of a risk-taker as their life feels out of control
- May start to struggle in school and grades may drop
- May abuse alcohol or drugs
- May take on adult responsibilities
- May start to feel depressed

7-12 Year Old Children

- Understand that death happens to everyone
- Can becomes snappy and aggressive
- Struggle to talk about their feelings
- May become clingy and have separation anxiety
- Is looking for honest answers to their questions
- May think the deceased becomes an angel or ghost
- May be scared of the dark
- Wants to know what happens to the body
- May become isolated and withdrawn from friends
- Understands that death is final
- May stop sleeping as well as normal
- May not want to go to school
- May stop eating as well as normal
- May worry that they are to blame for the death
- Finds everything a lot to take in and quite confusing
- May start being defiant and antisocial
- Worries about their own well-being
- Wants to know why people are sad
- Want to know they didnt cause the death
- May wet the bed
- Questions they ask may be blunt
- Dreams about the loved one that has passed

4-7 Year Old Children

- Doesn’t understand the meaning of death
- Think death is like sleeping and they will wake up or come back
- May want to socialise with friends or play less
- Change in routine can lead to changes in appetite & sleeping habits
- Will feel insecure & look for plenty of reassurance or become clingy
- May wonder if the death has something to do with them
- May worry about who is looking after them
- May change the way they behave such as become withdrawn or irritable
- May struggle to explain with words how they are feeling
- May ask questions about where that person is
- May wet the bed
- May dream of the deceased
- People being sad around them can have a profound effect
- May regress their behaviour such as sucking their thumb
- May look for the deceased
- May think they can bring them back to life
- Will want things to go back to normal routines