Children’s understanding of death
An understanding of death includes the knowledge and acceptance that:
Death is universal
Death is inevitable
We are all mortal and
will die one day
Death is irreversible
There’s no possibility of continued
physical existence after death
Children are not able to fully understand these three concepts when they are very young but develop a more mature understanding of death as they get older and mature. This understanding of death will reflect on how a child responds to loss and how they grieve. The features or characteristics of grief in children vary according to their developmental age, cognitive skills and understanding.
The majority of children who experience loss are likely to have three major concerns, namely:
- Did I cause the death?
- Will I also die?
- Who will care for me?
For this reason it is vital to reassure young children that they are in no way responsible for the death of a loved one, that they are not likely to die soon and that they will be safe and cared for after a parent or loved one has died.
Because talking about death and dying is so often a taboo topic, numerous myths have been perpetuated about grief, including childhood grief. Throughout the remainder of this course we will ask the important questions, dispel the myths and focus on the realities of how children experience loss, grief and bereavement.