A child’s concept of death

Children’s understanding of death

An understanding of death includes the knowledge and acceptance that:

Death is universal

It affects
everyone

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.

What happens when you die?

Before we take a look at how to explain death to children watch this  videoclip from Keech Hospice Care, a hospice based in Luton England, who asked a group of 4 & 5 year olds about what they think happens when you die. From cats in jars to sitting on a star,  you’ll enjoy the thoughts expressed by these children.

Explaining death to children

In the video below, author and expert on the topic, Doris Zagdanski, gives excellent advice on how to explain death to young children.

Some further reading to ponder on….