Well meaning adults often wish to protect children from painful events but by doing so often leave children feeling excluded from events that are important to them. Children begin to develop an understanding of some aspects of death and bereavement as early as 2 or 3 years. By the age of 5, over half of children have full understanding, and virtually all children will by the age of 8. How early a child develops such understanding depends primarily on whether adults have given truthful and sensitive explanations of any experiences of loss that the child may have had, such as the death of pets, and only secondarily on the level of cognitive development.
When a death is about to occur, or has occurred, it is helpful to discuss with parents what experience of death their children have and what they have been told, and understand, about the current situation. It is important to encourage children to ask questions. Parents are the best people to talk to their children, but they may need support and advice from professionals. Families often find it helpful to create memory boxes to store treasured photos and keepsakes, to read storybooks, or to use the workbooks on death and bereavement that are now available.
Parents may be preoccupied with the practical challenges of caring for someone who is dying or overwhelmed with their own grief. It may be useful to involve family friends or teachers. Adolescents struggling to develop their individuality and independence may find members of their peer group to be helpful, particularly if they know someone who has also experienced bereavement.
Support and information is available from national and local organisations concerned with the needs of children experiencing bereavement.
Was this article helpful?