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Children facing death: how to help them cope with a loss

Children facing death: how to help them cope with a loss

October 21, 2020

It is commonly believed that children do not live the mourning of the death of a loved one in the same way that adults do, because they are not able to express their feelings openly.

Children they face death according to their age and stage of development, but the way in which they manage to face this event depends on the accompaniment and management on the part of the adults. The deaths that can affect a child more are those of one of their parents, especially that of their mother.

Ages of the child and his grieving process

Under 3 years

A child under three years does not have the cognitive capacity to understand what is death . If his mother is absent due to death or illness, she will perceive it as abandonment and reflect it with insecurity. If the mother dies, the desire for her mother to return will persist for years. At this age they usually manifest apathy, irritability, passivity, loss of sleep and weight.


From 4 to 6 years

From four to six years old children's thinking is concrete, so they conceive dead people as sleeping and believe that they can "wake up" from death . At this age they still can not understand that there may be something after death, because it is beyond their cognitive capacity. It is likely that at this age they will constantly need to be reminded that the person has died and will not return.

At this age they usually manifest with setbacks such as wetting the bed, fear of separation and abandonment, loss of sleep and appetite, guilt and tantrums. Many times their behaviors are focused on being treated as smaller babies.


From 6 to 9 years old

From six to nine years they already understand the concept of death , sometimes they personify the dead as ghosts or angels, however, they perceive death as something alien to them. When a child of this age manifests his grief with aggressiveness, we are faced with a defense mechanism to prevent pain from affecting him more. Other children tend to show a lot of curiosity about death as a way of accepting what has happened, they can also start to show new fears.

From this age if they are indifferent to the event may be because of shame to express their feelings and not precisely by repression.

From 9 years of age

After 9 years they already understand death as inevitable and irreversible even for themselves . However, his duel is still complicated. They can present anhedonia, guilt, anger, shame, anxiety, mood swings, eating disorders and sleep.


How to talk with children about death?

When there is a terminal diagnosis of someone close to the child,or better to say it openly and start explaining what is death . When we anticipate events for children, they become less stressful than they would be without anticipation. It is important to tell them the truth with a very specific vocabulary, such as "will die", "has died" and not say "is gone" because children can interpret that the person has gone to another place and has not said goodbye them, which could cause more anger, pain and anxiety.

When you say that someone has died it is important to talk about the natural feelings about this event: "We are sad because he died and we will miss him", so the child will understand that what he feels is sadness and it is normal that he is feeling it. At the time of the news, it is best that adults do not hide their feelings but also show excessive emotions that could scare them.

Religious beliefs and grieving processes in children

In these moments, regardless of religious beliefs, the way in which God speaks is delicate because it could generate anger towards the "figure" who has decided to take his mother or father. We must answer all the questions that arise to the child in the most concrete and simple way possible.

Tips: support, closeness and understanding

Children should also participate in the rituals that are carried out to dismiss the person who has died, since the rituals help us close cycles and take advantage of that moment of "farewell" can help the child to better elaborate their grief. Do not forget that mourning in children can last for months or even years, it is necessary to have patience at all times .

In these moments, looking for support networks with friends and family members can also help the adults close to the grieving child. Each child is different and they will live their grief in their own way, but regardless of age, it is advisable to seek advice from a so-phatologist or a child psychologist to guide both the child and the family for a good resolution.


The Grieving Process: Coping with Death (October 2020).


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