Explaining loss to a child

Sad boy - child feeling loss

Sad boy - child feeling loss

Explaining loss to a child can be challenging, especially for the first time. Below are some tips to help you broach the subject with children of varying ages.

Under 5s

Young children in this bracket have limited ability to express their feelings. This is an age in which children begin to understand their surroundings and learn more about the world.

  • Expect tantrums as these children may be unable to express their emotions. Prepare your-self and try to handle with care and love, calmly and clearly.
  • Although there may be some unavoidable disruption, try to maintain the child’s usual routine as much as possible.
  • Statements such as ‘sleeping‘ or ‘we’ve lost them’ can cause confusion, so be clear that people who are dead will not come back.
  • Try to keep mementos for them as they get older and ask more questions.
  • For older children in this bracket, explain that death isn’t influenced by what we say or do, as many children are learning that their actions and words have an impact.

5-12 years

Children between these ages are likely to have more of an understanding of death, but equally will have more questions and concerns.

  • Don’t be surprised if your child asks lots of questions and becomes preoccupied with thoughts of death. Try to be open and supportive.
  • If you’re worried about changes in your child’s behaviour, notify the child’s school so they can offer support when you’re not around.
  • Children of this age may develop challenging behaviour to express their grief. Allow them the chance to talk to an adult they trust.

Teenagers

While it may seem at first that this would be the easiest age group when it comes to loss, it actually poses its own challenges for parents.

  • Teenagers often become introverted, so ensure you give them space to come to you of their own accord.
  • The school or college environment can become overwhelming, especially if they have exams or deadlines, so avoid burdening them with too much responsibility.
  • It is easy to accidently unload emotions or concerns on an older child, but don’t forget that they will likely be struggling too, though they may not show it.
  • Allow your teenager to decide how much of a role they would like to play in funeral arrangements and have their say on any subsequent life changes.