How to Help Your Children Grieve the Loss of a Loved One

“Anyone old enough to love is old enough to grieve.” – Dr. Alan Wolfelt


Discussing the death of a loved one with a childWhen someone close to your children dies, it’s important to have a candid talk with them about the situation. But depending on the ages of your kids, what you say to help them process the news will differ. Every child is unique and will grieve uniquely, but there are age-specific factors that you’ll need to contend with.


Babies may have no understanding of death but they will notice the absence of a primary caregiver or other close family member. They may ask for or indicate a desire for the missing person and have an expectation that they will shortly return. You may notice a difference in their sleeping and eating patterns, as well as increased fussiness or crying. What tends to be most difficult for them is the sadness of surviving family members. It’s important for primary caregivers to manage their own grief effectively in order to offer infants the stability and security needed to flourish.


Between the ages of three and six, children may have some understanding of death but it’s likely a murky concept. It’s quite common for small kids to think of death as something impermanent or reversible. Expect that you’ll need to repeat information multiple times in simple, literal terms.

Additionally, children need help labelling their emotions. A number of possible behaviours such as aggression, difficulty sleeping or a return to bed-wetting are possible when big feelings are unmanaged. Like infants, preschoolers are also susceptible to the emotions of those around them and benefit when parents continue to set regular routines and limits on behaviour.

A child's grief can lead to withdrawal, aggression or poor performance at schoolSchool-aged children

Between the ages of six and 12, children come to understand that death is final. However, they’ll likely have lots of questions and wish to know specific details about the circumstances involved or possibly inquire about what will happen to the deceased person’s body. They’re very likely to experience a range of emotions including sorrow, anger, guilt, and fear. All of these are normal and you should help your children look for healthy ways to express their feelings. Unprocessed grief may erupt as behaviour problems such as aggression, poor performance at school, or withdrawal from friends and activities.  


Teens completely understand the concept of death but don’t have the internal mechanisms to cope. In the face of big, overwhelming emotions they may rebel, partake in risky behaviours, display hostility or anger, or possibly withdraw from family members. They should be encouraged to express their feelings with a trusted adult (possibly a guidance counsellor, coach or teacher) and age-specific support groups can also be helpful. Creative activities like drawing, acting, writing, dancing or playing music may provide catharsis.

The funeral service is part of the road to healing, even for childrenFuneral services help children grieve

Mount Pleasant Group funeral homes in GTA communities, like Oshawa and Pickering, help families and their children grieve by taking the stress out of funeral planning. Contact us today for help putting together a funeral service, burial, or memorial.

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