Grief in Children
Depending on the age and the maturity level of a child, their reaction to the death of a loved one varies. As a child ages and matures, there will be times when they will revisit the memory of losing a loved one. It is important that you provide support during this difficult time.
For you to have a clearer picture of how children feel and react to the loss of someone who’s been a significant part of their life, we’ve provided an overview based on their age:
Infants and Toddlers
Do not underestimate the ability of infants and toddlers to feel a loss. Although they might still not have the ability to understand what’s going on, they can comprehend loss through the absence of someone they’ve gotten used to spending intimate times with, through an interruption to their usual routine, and through the stress and grief they sense from their parents and the people around them. To help a child at this age cope with this situation, double your efforts in cuddling and holding them — this helps give a feeling of security and love despite the absence of someone.
Children at this age might have difficulties differentiating reality from fantasy, and even more so, the permanence of death. You might feel that using euphemisms to explain the situation to your child may be helpful, but that is not the case. Using terms such as “gone away,” “sleeping,” or “lost” might confuse your young child and could give them fears or negative thoughts. For example, if a young child is told that a deceased loved one has “gone away,” it might make him/her feel abandoned or rejected. A young child might also think that it’s probably his/her fault. If you tell them that the person in the casket is only “sleeping,” they might have fears about not waking up again when they sleep at night. When talking to your child about the death of a loved one, it is best to be honest and use simple and direct words that they can understand.