Loss of a Loved One

The death of a loved one is a tragic and difficult part of life. Adults generally recognize that they need time to sort through their emotions and cope with their grief, but they may not know how to respond to children who have suffered loss.

Depending on their age and experience, children may have an incomplete understanding of death. Young children might not understand that death involves a permanent separation from the deceased, or that all people die. Older children might struggle with anger or believe that they are somehow responsible.2  Euphemisms for death such as “loss,” “sleep,” and “went away” can be very confusing, leaving children afraid that sleep or separation from loved ones could lead to death.1

Children may grieve the loss of a love one differently than an adult might.4 They may react with emotional shock, detachment, or immature behavior.  Some children will ask questions over and over because they find the answers too difficult to accept.3  It is important to let children express their feelings without criticizing or judging them. Children will often watch to see how adults react and shape their responses accordingly.3 In talking about death with your mentee, be honest and try to use language that he or she will understand.

Resources:

Helping Children Who Have Lost a Loved One

Talking to Children About Death

Death and Loss: Helping Children Manage Their Grief

Helping Your Child Deal with Death

References:

1. “Talking to Children About Death

2. “Healthy Grief” 

3. “Coping with Bereavement

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