Frequently Asked Questions
About Grieving Children
Q: Do children blame themselves for the death of a family member?
A: Many children believe they caused the death of a parent or sibling. The consequences of guilt can be deep and long-reaching, so learn to spot the signs that your child may be struggling with this powerful emotion.
Q: When is a child too young to attend a wake or funeral?
A: No child is too young--if your child is well-prepared and well-supported. Children of every age should be encouraged to attend wakes and funerals for several reasons. It is an opportunity to stay close to and be comforted by their surviving parent or caretaker. It also helps children begin to realize that their loved one is really dead and provides a concrete experience through which they may process that reality. Also, if the child is excluded from the experience, they may conclude that it's too scary or "bad" to be dealt with or even discussed. However, a child should never be coerced, rather provided with examples of what they should expect to see and feel. They should fully understand that they have a say in the amount of time they will spend and how they will participate. They should also understand that they have the option to change their mind on their decision to attend the wake or funeral.
Q: Can a preschooler understand the concept of death?
A: Yes, with concrete explanations and language.
Q: Do children experience grief in different ways?
A: How a child experiences grief depends largely on the child’s developmental stage and age. Infants and toddlers, up to about age 5, experience a sense of loss but do not understand the permanence of death, according to the Children's Grief Education Association. From ages 6 to 10, children comprehend that a loved one who has died will not return and are likely to be interested in diseases and what happens to the body. In early adolescence, ages 11 to 13, the child's natural insecurity may be magnified by the loss. From 14 to 18, as teens are testing their independence, they often seek to hide their grief and talk with peers about it rather than adults. They are more prone to engage in high-risk behavior following the death of a loved one.
Q: What are some ways that I can help my grieving child?
A: Seek out support and encourage questions. Be honest - based on the child’s age and developmental level. Encourage children to express their emotions. Offer alternatives for safe expression of feelings. Offer clear limits and guidelines in your home. Establish routines and offer plenty of physical comfort. Recognize and accept temporary regression as part of the healing process. Communicate and offer opportunities for remembering the person who has died. Avoid euphemisms for death, such as a description of the deceased as "lost" or "sleeping", as this may lead to confusion regarding the concept of death or fear of sleep.
Q: Should I worry about a child committing suicide after a family death?
A: Although uncommon, there are signals no parent dare miss when it comes to an extreme reaction to grief...especially among adolescents.