Helping Children Cope with Death

A child will primarily feel extreme and long lasting sadness for the loss of significant others, such as a

Sometimes children wrongly conclude that a loved one’s death is their fault.

parent, grandparent, or sibling. The sadness may stem from feelings of abandonment. The child may conclude that their loved one departed because he/she was bad. A child’s view of morality at this age is that bad behaviors are punished and good behaviors are rewarded. It may be helpful to point out that the loved one did not choose to die, that someone’s bad behavior caused the death To demonstrate an increased need to be cared for, bereaved children may regress back to younger childish behaviors such as bed-wetting and crying upon separation. Young children will act out their fear and confusion through play and should not be discouraged from doing so. Parents and caregivers can facilitate play by sitting with the child as he/she plays with dolls, puppets, stuffed animals, toy cars, and doll houses. As a parent or caregiver, ask how various dolls or stuffed animals feel during play. Look for aggression in play and explore where the anger is focused. It may be beneficial to have a child see a play therapist to help process their grief. Because of short attention spans, young bereaved children may not be able to focus on their feelings for extended periods of time, especially those they cannot articulate. A bereaved child may ask about the death one minute, then play happily the next. Parents and caregivers must realize that periods of play do not mean the child has come to terms with the loss, but are expressions of that loss or respites from their feelings.


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