What Do Kids Understand About Death
By Yvonne Clark
Grief is love not wanting to say good-bye, the risk of
love is loss; the result of loss is grief Life consists
of greetings and partings, beginnings and endings.
Children and adolescents usually do not need an
introduction to the greetings and beginnings of life,
but the partings and endings are usually out of the
ordinary, confusing, and painful.
Children and adolescents will need help understanding
death and grief This help will come from parents,
caregivers, family members, friends, teachers and other
supportive caring adults. Adults providing support for a
grieving child or adolescent should provide safe places
for him or her to grieve. Youth need acceptance from
adults of their unique grief journey in a nonjudgmental
way. Sensitive and supporting adults will help kids
understand that his or her grief is a journey and not a
one-time or short duration event.
As adults help kids work through and understand grief
there are some common questions asked by kids:
- Why Not Just Avoid Grief? We may think we want to
avoid grief but really, it is the pain of the loss we
want to avoid. Grief is the healing process that
ultimately brings the child or adolescent comfort in his
or her pain.
- What Is the Difference Between Grief and Mourning?
Mourning is the external part of loss. It is the actions
we take, the religious ceremony, rituals, and customs.
Grief is the internal pain we feel.
- When Does Grief End? Grief is a process, not an event.
We live in a society that places enormous pressure on
kids and adults to get through the grief "move on" with
his or her life. There is no timeline for grief death
happens in time but the emotional aftermath last a
lifetime. A child or adolescent will grieve as long as
they need to.
- Are There Stages or Phases of Grief? There are five
stages of grief- denial, anger, bargaining, depression
Children do not experience or express their grief the
same way adults do. Youth usually don't openly talk
about how they are feeling, what they are thinking, or
that a death in his or her life makes them feel
different. Grief support groups can be extremely helpful
for children and adolescents. Support groups provide the
child or adolescent a safe place to talk and share their
emotional distress with others who have experienced
When a child or adolescent experiences the pain of grief
give them time and opportunities to talk, about his or
her feelings and fears. Create opportunities for them to
vent pent-up emotions of anger, sadness, guilt, and
despair. Sharing our feelings can be one of the most
effective ways to encourage kids to express their
emotions, while listening carefully to understand what
the child or adolescent is really saying.
What do we want children and adolescents to understand
about death and grief? Death is a part of life and the
grief attached to the loss of someone special is not a
sign of weakness. Grief is a healthy and fitting
response to a loss, a tribute to a loved one who has