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Grief support ages 6-12

Ages 6-12

Concept of death

Children in the 6-12 age range may understand that all people die and that death is irreversible, but they may still ask questions about the physical process of death/dying. Children this age may learn to identify death as involving a skeleton, ghost or angel and may have known someone or something who has died (a friend’s grandma or a family pet, for example).

Ways they show stress

  • Increased crying, irritability, crankiness
  • Withdrawing from social activities (loss of interest in afterschool activities/favorite hobbies)
  • Changes in sleep habits (sleeping more or less)
  • Changes in eating habits (eating more or less)
  • Increased fearfulness, anxiety, loneliness
  • Express feelings of guilt or anger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • May show a drop in school grades or put excessive pressure on themselves academically
  • May regress in behavior (seeking an old comfort item such as a stuffed animal or blanket, sleeping with a nightlight on, etc.)

Ways they cope

  • Often will ask direct questions about their loved one’s death, especially the physical act of death
  • May behave aggressively
  • May not show their feelings and may act like it never happened

How to talk to them

  • Use clear language (don’t be afraid to use terms “death” or “dying”)
  • Avoid terms like “passed away,” “gone home” or “went to sleep” to avoid confusion between a temporary absence and a permanent one
  • Avoid cliches (“Don’t worry, things will be OK.”)
  • Discuss the types of feelings that people tend to have after someone they love dies; allow child to express their emotions and be honest about your own

How to provide support

  • Talk openly and honestly with child, allowing them to ask questions and share their fears
  • Reassure the child that they are not at fault and that nothing they did, said or thought caused the death (Magical thinking, or believing events that happen around them are caused by their own actions or thoughts, is possible at this age and children may think their thoughts or actions caused the death)
  • Be honest and tell a child if you don’t have an answer
  • Help them remember positive memories of their loved one
  • Model healthy coping behaviors (coloring, talking with someone about loved one and what you love about them, writing a letter or journaling, etc.)
  • Inform their school counselor or teacher and help your child identify a trusted adult to talk with if needed
  • Allow regressive behavior but help your child learn to be aware of, and avoid, impulsive behaviors

Activities to help with coping

  • Maintain child’s usual routines (their regular bedtimes, bath times, mealtimes, etc.) with consistent and familiar caregivers
  • Assist child in creating a memory box
  • Allow child to participate in memorial services, giving them choices about their involvement in the service
  • Allow child to choose and keep a familiar article of clothing or pillowcase of the loved one who died (familiar scents can be comforting)
  • Celebrate holidays with familiar traditions, such as visiting a special place or making a favorite meal
  • Encourage child’s participation in memorial activities to honor and remember their loved one