Helping Children Cope with Death

a child might cry when it stops performing. A stuffed animal seems alive during play because it has assumed life-like characteristics. A limited concept of time added to a limited concept of death means that when

Children ages four to six understand death best when explained in physical terms.

a loved one dies, the child may expect the deceased to be alive again soon. Children may accept the news of the death in a matter-of-fact manner and may speak of the death or deceased person in the same detached way they speak of a playmate or pet. If the dead loved one was a parent or caregiver, the child’s primary worry will be about who will care for him/her. The child may cry because of disruptions in the household or the reactions of others, rather than thinking of the death itself. Abstract concepts such as “life after death” are beyond his/her thinking ability. In an effort to understand what has happened, young children will ask all kinds of questions that are sometimes alarming to adults. Questions like, “How will Daddy go to the bathroom?” or “Can we open our presents at the cemetery?” and “When will Grandma come play with me again?” may surprise adults. No matter how appropriate the news of the death, young children will continue to ask questions and make observations that may startle adults. Regardless, they deserve a response. Sometimes those questions can be hurtful to hear and can be difficult to respond to. You can try to anticipate what some of the questions may be by thinking through what the situation might look like to your child and have a response ready so that you are prepared, and it may provide less of a shock.


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