For Parents

Little girl with paint on her handsFamilies in Grief offer a range of support materials for parents and carers in grieving families.

The way your child experiences and reacts to death may be different from an adult. One of the differences is that intense emotion and behavioural expression are not continuous in children.

A child’s grief may appear to be more intermittent and brief than an adults but in fact it usually lasts longer (Worden J 1996).

Adults could be said to wade through rivers of grief, for children their grief is more like jumping in and out of puddles. One minute a child may be crying and upset, the next laughing and playing; this is normal.

Ages and Stages of Grief

Age 2-3 years

  • Often confuse death with sleep
  • May exhibit loss of speech (Wass H Corr C 1984)

Age 3-6 years

  • This is the age of magical thinking. Children may believe their actions and words caused the death or that they can bring the dead person back
  • Do not always have the words to express feelings
  • May exhibit disturbances in eating, sleeping and bladder control (Grollman E A 1990)

Age 6-9 years

  • Beginning to understand the finality of death
  • Afraid that death is contagious and worry about who else is going to die
  • May ask questions over and over again
  • Often protect adults
  • Usually very curious about death
  • May have a strong sense of abandonment (Wass H Corr C 1984)

9-12 years

  • View death as inevitable
  • Understanding is nearer to adults
  • Beginning to understand the finality of death
  • Aware of the impact the death will have on them

13-18 years

  • Understand the finality and universality of death (Grollman EA 1990)
  • More interested in talking to peers than to their family
  • Often participate in risk-taking behaviour

Tasks of grief

William Worden (1991) suggests that grief is an essential and painful healing process which is achieved through a series of tasks:

  • Facing reality
  • Experiencing the pain of grief
  • Adjusting to the new reality
  • Re-investing in the future and moving on with life

Some children may not be able to acknowledge what has happened and may cope by denying it at first.  It may help a child face the reality if he is given the opportunity to see the dead person and to be involved in the preparations for the funeral and their attendance at the funeral will help them.