Special Considerations for Children by Developmental Age
Newborn to Age Three
● Even newborns can sense changes in routine, excitement at home, sadness or anxiety, presence of new people. They can sense a significant person in their lives is missing and are aware when their parents are gone at odd times.
● You may notice changes in behavior, i.e. crankiness, altered sleep patterns, changes in eating habits. If you notice these changes, you can respond more sensitively to their needs.
Ages Three to Six
● Very young children think death is temporary and reversible: people will come back (e.g. E.T. and the Roadrunner did). They make conclusions that may not be accurate:
* Does this mean someone is going to die?
* Grandpa died from a headache, Mommy has headaches too……
* Old people die: Daddy is old…Will Daddy die too?
● They may feel responsible for the death. Correct any misconceptions and explain that crying, feeling bad and/or feeling angry is normal.
Ages Six to Nine
● Most children this age understand that death is final but some might still believe that the dead person will come back. They still need a more detailed explanation.
● Explain the difference between a fatal illness and just being sick.
● They may have fears of losing a parent, which are intensified when a single parent is raising a child.
● They may also fear that “death” will come and take them and not want to go into a house where someone has died. Reassure them that their thoughts or actions did not cause the death.
● Reassure them that the emotions they are feeling are normal by sharing
how you are feeling.
Ages Nine to Twelve
● Children above age nine and into adolescence start to understand that all things die and that they themselves will someday die. They understand that death is final.
● They are aware of the impact that death has on the family’s security and finances.
● They may think of death as punishment for bad behavior and may have guilt feelings for avoiding doing things for or with the person who died.
● Some may be interested in the biological details of what happened.
● Sharing your thoughts and feelings may help the child open up to what he or she is experiencing.
● Teenagers grasp the concepts of death and understand that it happens to us all.
● They begin to develop existential questions about the meaning of life.
● Even knowing what death is, they will be concerned with how to act, what to say, and where they fit in. They may want to know how they can help make things better.
● Like people of all age groups, they may be angry, sad and bewildered. Death is not easy to deal with at any age. Reassure them that their feelings are normal.
● Be there to help them through their grief, understand their emotions, and teach them how to act during this crisis.