family member dies, children react differently from adults.
Preschool children usually see death as temporary and reversible,
a belief reinforced by cartoon characters who "die" and "come
to life" again. Children between five and nine begin to think
more like adults about death, yet they still believe it will
never happen to them or anyone they know.
to a child's shock and confusion at the death of a brother,
sister, or parent is the unavailability of other family members,
who may be so shaken by grief that they are not able to cope
with the normal responsibility of child care.
should be aware of normal childhood responses to a death in
the family, as well as signs when a child is having difficulty
coping with grief. According to child and adolescent psychiatrists,
it is normal during the weeks following the death for some
children to feel immediate grief or persist in the belief
that the family member is still alive. However, long-term
denial of the death or avoidance of grief can be emotionally
unhealthy and can later lead to more severe problems.
who is frightened about attending a funeral should not be
forced to go; however, honoring or remembering the person
in some way, such as lighting a candle, saying a prayer, making
a scrapbook, reviewing photographs, or telling a story may
accept the death, they are likely to display their feelings
of sadness on and off over a long period of time, and often
at unexpected moments. The surviving relatives should spend
as much time as possible with the child, making it clear that
the child has permission to show his or her feelings openly
who has died was essential to the stability of the child's
world, and anger is a natural reaction. The anger may be revealed
in boisterous play, nightmares, irritability, or a variety
of other behaviors. Often the child will show anger towards
the surviving family members.
a parent dies, many children will act younger than they are.
The child may temporarily become more infantile; demand food,
attention and cuddling; and talk "baby talk." Younger children
frequently believe they are the cause of what happens around
them. A young child may believe a parent, grandparent, brother,
or sister died because he or she had once "wished" the person
dead when they were angry. The child feels guilty or blames
him or herself because the wish "came true."
who are having serious problems with grief and loss may show
one or more of these signs:
extended period of depression in which the child loses interest
in daily activities and events
to sleep, loss of appetite, prolonged fear of being alone
much younger for an extended period
imitating the dead person
statements of wanting to join the dead person
from friends, or
drop in school performance or refusal to attend school
warning signs indicate that professional help may be needed.
A child and adolescent psychiatrist can help the child accept
the death and assist the survivors in helping the child through
the mourning process.
information, see Facts for Families;
#4 "The Depressed Child,"
#7 "Children Who Won't Go to School,"
#34 "Children's Sleep Problems," and
#36 "Helping Children After a Disaster."
#8 Updated 11/98