Child and Teen Grief

Communication about death, as with all communication, is easier when a child or a teen feels that s/he has our permission to talk about the subject and believes we are sincerely interested in his/her views and questions. Encourage him/her to communicate by listening attentively, respecting his/her views, and answering his/her questions honestly.

Every child is an individual. Communication about death depends on the age and their own experiences. If s/he is very young, s/he may view death as temporary, and s/he may be more concerned about separation from loved ones than about death itself.

It is not always easy to “hear” what a child is really asking. Sometimes it may be necessary to respond to a question with a question in order to fully understand the child’s concern.

A very young child can absorb only limited amounts of information. Answers need to be brief, simple, and repeated when necessary.

A child often feels guilty and angry when s/he loses a close family member. S/he needs reassurance that s/he has been, and will continue to be loved and cared for.

A child may need to mourn a deeply felt loss on and off until s/he is in their adolescence. S/he needs support and understanding through this grief process and permission to show his/her feelings openly and freely.

Whether a child should visit the dying or attend a funeral depends on his/her age and ability to understand the situation, the relationship with the dying or dead person, and, most important, whether the child wishes it. A child should never be coerced or made to feel guilty if s/he prefers not to be involved. If s/he is permitted to visit a dying person or attend a funeral, s/he should be prepared in advance for what s/he will hear and see.

The following are useful links on children’s grief and bereavement issues.
Hospice Net – Children

Topics on this site include:

Other resources for grieving children, teens and families:

The Dougy Centre

Alan Wolfelt – Center for Loss