Children ages 7-11 generally understand a little more about death, although a young 7 year old may need to be reminded that death is permanent but can grasp the concept more quickly. Children at this age can sometimes think in terms of cause and effect. They may think that they did something to cause a death. Therefore, it is important to reassure the child that they did not cause the death and talk about death as being part of the life cycle.
Teens often look like adults but we must remember that in fact they are still teens. Teens have a lot going on in their world, it is a time of significant change. They are trying to figure out who they are and what they believe. Peer groups are highly important to teens. Therefore, providing an opportunity for teens to meet other teens who have had a loved one die can be very helpful. Be available to talk but also provide opportunities for another trusting adult (outside the family) to support the teen.
Here are some possible reactions and some helpful hints on how adults can be supportive:
Children 7-11 years old
- Have a greater understanding that death is final
- Can view death as punishment
- At this age children are very curious and may ask specific questions and desire details about death, for example, about the body, etc.
How adults can help:
- Answer questions appropriately and honestly
- Encourage expression of all feelings
- Offer choices
- Provide physical outlets to express grief
- Listen and provide a time to talk about the death
Children 11 years and older
- Understand death more fully
- Peer group is very important, may be more willing to talk to someone outside of the family
How adults can help:
- Encourage verbalization
- Provide choice
- Model, older children and teens look to adults on how to grieve and express emotion
- Be available but do not attempt to fix the situation
- Offer a support group where there are other children and teens who have had a loved one die
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
He is with you. He is close.