How Do Children Cope with Death?

by SusanM

Children's grief is different. This means it is easy to miss how much grief a child feels. It also makes it hard to know what to do.

If you don’t understand your child’s awareness of death you aren’t alone.

It is common for adults to underestimate how much the death of a loved one like a grandparent upsets children. This is a problem because it means you can miss your child’s grief which is harmful.

Children's Awareness of Death

Do Adults Understand Kid's Death Awareness?

Everybody knows adults feel grief when a loved one dies. This grief can be deep and painful. But many people wrongly think children either don't feel grief or don't feel it as deep or painful as an adult. This is not true. This is a myth that is because show their grief in a different way to adults. This means adults often miss when children grieve. 

Research into children's grief shows these myths about grief can harm child and parent communication. Parents can hold myths about how a child grieves. A common one is children bounce back more quickly than adults. But many people don't know children also hold similar myths about how adults grieve. Children believe adults can recover from grief faster than they can.

Hidden Signs of Children's Grief

The signs of grief that can be seen like crying are often be given too much significance in families. Parents seem to think that if they can see signs of obvious grief like crying it means their child is no longer grieving. Many children also have the same belief about adults. They think if an adult is not crying they aren’t sad. But this is not all children. Research has found some children understood their parents were hiding their grief from them. 

Children often worry about grieving parents and may change their behaviour to please and support them. This may impact what children choose to share with their parents leading parents to think their children are not grieving the loss.

Protecting Each Other

Parents and children have a mutual need to protect each other from the impact of grief. This may lead to a state of poor communication. Children, may avoid asking questions about death or grief for fear of making their parents sad, while parents may focus on reassurance and ‘hiding’ their grief to avoid upsetting their children. Yet trying to protect children from grief may just add confusion to the situation.

Top Books for Children about Death and Dying



View on Amazon

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf

Slack Incorporated

View on Amazon

Children Want to Know More

Research has found children want more information then adults usually give them. To fill in gaps in their knowledge children will use ways to find out without actually asking questions. Children may watch others like their parents. They may eavesdrop on adult conversations to find out more.

Children create their own meaning from the information they find. They will use this to try to fill in the “missing pieces” themselves. So when adults try to reassure children it may not work because children have their own knowledge. Children are thinkers so reassurance without real talking does not usually work as well as adults think.

It also helpful to find out what questions a child has about a death of a loved one. Answers should give a good answer to their question but worded for the age of the child. Adults may also use another loss related to death as a springboard to explore spiritual questions and to openly discuss death and dying with children. These are usually better than simply giving answers to assumed questions and "reassurance".

Top Books to Help Grieving Children

The Invisible String
DeVorss & Company
The Next Place
Waldman House Press

Children and Funerals

This research also found it is often good for children to take part in the funeral planning. This is because children often have opinions and suggestions about things such as the service. Being included lets children to feel heard by adults.

Talking often decreases between a parent and a child when a love one dies. So sharing in the planning of the funeral can help keep communication open. This is because parent and child are sharing of a common goal or task. Being able to help may also stop a child from feeling so isolated which is a common feeling after a loved one dies.

It is wise if adults find out if a child has something they wish to suggest for the funeral rather than automatically thinking that funerals should only include adults. 


Irizarry C. "Spirituality and the Child: A Grandparent’s Death.." Journal of Psychosocial Oncology. 10 (1992)

Updated: 09/02/2012, SusanM
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