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Women and Family Care

Age-appropriate messages about death

Children need accurate and clear information they can understand. It's best to customize that information based on how their current developmental stage.

Infancy to 3 Years
Children in this stage of development sense their parent’s/family’s grief. They see and hear everything. Explain to them why you are sad. They understand more than you think. They have no concept of death, however, they may be curious.
They may experience changes in eating, sleeping and behavior patterns. These often include “regression” behaviors (bed.wetting, thumb sucking, and tantrums).

3 – 6 years
Children in this stage of development have no concept of finality and may ask when the baby is coming home.
They are curious about death and may ask questions.
They may blame themselves for everyone’s sadness.

6 – 9 years
Children in this stage of development are able to comprehend more details.
They may blame themselves and often become “caretakers” in the attempt to make their parents feel better.

9–12 years
Children in this stage of development will have an adult understanding of death.
They freely express their emotion and may have some very complex questions surrounding death.

Teenage years
Children in this stage of development often internalize their feelings and are reluctant to show outward emotion.

They may withdraw to their rooms, friends, etc. and may have a delayed response to the grieving process. No matter what developmental stage a child is in, it is important to recognize the uniqueness of their grief and respond to their feelings, emotions and behavior in an open and honest way.

Children need to be assured that their feelings are normal. Most will need assistance in describing their feelings, i.e. anger, sadness, fear. Research has shown that a sibling who is actively involved in the family’s grieving process will demonstrate healthy long-term outcomes.

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