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Children and Understanding Death

“Death” is a word that frightens us all. If losing a family member or any dear person is the biggest fear for many adults, can you even imagine how hard it is to a child to understand and accept the death of a relative? As a parent, there are many facts that you should know about how children react facing the death of a close family member, in order to be able to help them overcome their loss.

Is my child ready to understand death?

You should know that infants will feel the loss if the person who died was very close, in a way that she was present in their daily routine. They are also very sensitive and will feel the sadness around them, which will cause them anxiety and will make them needy of more affection. As for preschoolers, they usually think that death is temporary and reversible; they think that people in their lives are exactly the same as the cartoon characters that die and come to life again. It is only at the age of 5 that children will start to understand the basic facts about death, which means they will be aware that it happens to all living things, it has a cause and it is a permanent separation. They can also understand that dead people don’t need to eat or drink, and they don’t see, hear, speak or feel.

How do children react to death?

When death occurs in the family, several feelings overwhelm the child:

  • Fear: This is the basic feeling that a child will experience after losing someone. This fear is caused by the uncertainty about many things like: What happened? Who will die next? How will we live without the dead person? Will my parents ever recover from their grief? How often does death occur? Who will take care of me? Where will I go if I die? Why did it happen to me? Will I die? Etc.

  • Guilt: Young children usually have the feeling that they cause everything that happens around them, which make them feel guilty if someone dies; for they will think that it was their fault.

  • Anger: It is a natural reaction to the loss of someone who was essential to the child’s stability and safety. Children usually show their anger in boisterous play, by being irritable, or in nightmares.

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