Ever hear a child talk about death in a way that surprises you?
Child 1: A two-year girl says her father is standing in her classroom. He passed away from injuries related to a fall a few weeks before.
Child 2: A six-year-old in the dramatic play area says, “Let’s pretend I killed my baby.”
Child 3: A boy is afraid to go to sleep because he saw his grandfather ‘sleeping’ at the funeral.
Developmental Stages of Understanding – A General Guide
- Preschool children mostly see death as temporary, reversible and impersonal. In stories they read or watch, characters will often suddenly rise alive again after being totally destroyed. It’s not surprising they don’t understand, yet it is appropriate for their age level to think this way.
- Between the ages of five and nine, most children are beginning to see that all living things will eventually die, and that death is final. They tend to not relate it to themselves and consider the idea that they can escape it.
- From age nine through to adolescence, children begin to understand completely that death is irreversible and that they too will die at some point.
It is important to remember however that all children develop at different rates and that children experience life individually. They have their own personal ways of handling and expressing emotions. Explaining death in simple terms for young children is very important. For example, when someone dies, they will not eat or breathe or talk ever again.
No matter how children cope with death or express their feelings, they need sensitive and nonjudgmental responses from adults. Careful listening and observing are important ways to learn how to respond appropriately to a child’s needs.
For more information on how to talk to children about death, please visit this site: