Children's developmental stages/reactions

Wellness Tips
Developmental Ages and Possible Reactions to Death

Age What they Think What they Feel What they Do
3-5 years
(preschool)
  • Death is temporary and reversible
  • Finality of death is not evident
  • Death mixed up with trips, sleep
  • May wonder what deceased is doing
  • Sad
  • Anxious
  • Withdrawn
  • Confused about changes
  • Angry
  • Scared
  • Cranky (feelings are acted out in play)
  • Cry
  • Fight
  • Are interested in dead things
  • Act as if death never happened
6-9 years
  • About the finality of death
  • About the biological process of death
  • Death is related to mutilation
  • A spirit gets you when you die
  • About who will care for them if a parent dies
  • Their actions and words caused the death
  • Sad
  • Anxious
  • Withdrawn
  • Confused about changes
  • Angry
  • Scared
  • Cranky (feelings are acted out in play)
  • Behave aggressively
  • Behave withdrawn
  • Experience nightmares
  • Act as if death never happened
  • Lack of concentration
  • Have a decline in grades
9-12 years
  • About and understand the finality in death
  • Death is hard to talk about
  • That death may happen again, and feel anxious
  • About death with jocularity
  • About what will happen if their parent(s) die
  • Their actions and words caused the death
  • Vulnerable
  • Anxious
  • Scared
  • Lonely
  • Confused
  • Angry
  • Sad
  • Abandoned
  • Guilty
  • Fearful
  • Worried
  • Isolated
  • Behave aggressively
  • Behave withdrawn
  • Talk about physical aspects of death
  • Act like it never happened, not show feelings
  • Experience nightmares
  • Lack of concentration
  • Have a decline in grades
12 years and up
(teenagers)
  • About and understand the finality of death
  • If they show their feelings they will be weak
  • They need to be in control of their feelings
  • About death and jocularity
  • Only about life before or after death
  • Their actions and words caused the death
  • Vulnerable
  • Anxious
  • Scared
  • Lonely
  • Confused
  • Angry
  • Sad
  • Abandoned
  • Guilty
  • Fearful
  • Worried
  • Isolated
  • Behave impulsively
  • Argue, scream, fight
  • Allow themselves to be in dangerous situations
  • Grieve for what might have been
  • Experience nightmares
  • Act like it never happened
  • Lack of concentration
  • Have a decline in grades



 

Approximate Developmental Age Grief Reactions Helpful Approaches
Infant to 2 years
  • General distress
  • Sleeplessness
  • Shock, despair, protest
  • Child responses to parental grief
  • A consistent, nurturing figure to take the place of the lost family member
  • Include in funeral rituals
Ages 2-5 years
  • Confusion
  • Agitation at night, frightening dreams, regression
  • Child often understands that a profound event has occurred
  • May appear unaffected
  • Repeated questioning
  • Child’s understanding of death is limited
  • Simple, honest words and phrases
  • Reassurance
  • Drawing, reading books
  • Play together
  • Include in funeral rituals
  • Secure, loving environment
Ages 5-8 years
  • Wants to understand about death in a concrete way, but think “won’t happen to them”
  • Denial, anger, sorrow
  • General distress, disoriented, confused
  • May behave as though nothing has happened
  • May ask questions repeatedly
  • Desire to confirm w/peers
  • May need physical activity on a regular basis
  • Simple, honest words and phrases
  • Answer questions simply and honestly
  • Look for confused thinking
  • Offer physical outlets
  • Reassurance about the future
  • Drawings, reading books, play together
  • Include in funeral rituals
Ages 8-12 years
  • Shock, denial, anxiety, distress
  • Facade of coping
  • May need physical activity on a regular basis
  • Finality of death understood, phobic behavior, morbid curiosity, peer conformity
  • Answer questions directly and honestly
  • Reassurance about future
  • Create times to talk
  • Offer physical outlets
  • Reading
Adolescents
  • Shock, anxiety, distress, denial, anger, depression, withdrawal, aggression
  • May react similar to adult but have less coping mechanisms
  • May feel young and vulnerable, and need to talk



Grieving Hearts