INFANT-TODDLER Even a baby senses change. Schedules are interrupted, routines that the infant counts on change and the parent who nurtures the child will be missed.
TODDLERS TO AGE 3 Young children sense a disruption in schedules and family life.These young children respond to the adults around them, and they will be distressed if a parent is suddenly gone.
THREE TO SIX A child this age may think that the person who died will come back. At this age level a child does not realize that death is forever, that death is irreversible. There usually are many questions about when the deceased will return. Yet the child knows that the death has occurred, and can say “Uncle George died yesterday.” Also a child this age wonders if they caused the death. They need to be told what happened clearly so they do not blame themselves for the death.The child does not have the verbal skills to express feelings fully.
SIX TO NINE The six year old is beginning to understand that death is final. The child has the ability to comprehend and respond emotionally. At this age,give the child more information about what happened. The child has some verbal skills but will need help with words that describe feelings and thoughts. This more independent, capable child may appear to do well on his own and probably understands more than you think he does regarding what is happening during the illness and death. Yet this child will need parental guidance as he or she faces death directly.Nurturing,touching and gentle love are important.
NINE TO TWELVE This older school age child understands the finality of death and understands how it affects their own security and financial matters. Concerns about the family and their future without the parent will result from their awareness. Sometimes an elementary school age child will hide their feelings, or wait for a period of time to express their feelings. This age child is curious about how the world works and in particular, how the body works. The child wants concrete explanations. When told that the body stops working when a person dies, they accept that fact and usually ask specific questions about parts of the body.For instance, a child may ask”if the heart stops, do the eyes still work?” or “If the body stops can a person still talk?” These questions are real and should be answered and taken seriously.
ADOLESCENCE At this age, teenagers will more than likely respond to a death in the family by talking to their friends instead of family members. Adolescents have the ability to think about situations in their lives philosophically. They will be able to put together thoughts about life and death,, ask questions that they never considered before and may need a place to discuss these ideas.Music, art and other forms of expression appeal to them as they sort out new experiences and ways of coping with them.Love and nurturing is still important, but the teenager often (but not always) resists any outward expression such as hugs or other affection. The transition to loving the teenager as a young adult is a difficult adjustment. The expressions of loving and caring may need to be verbal and private, if shared at all.Tell the teen you still love them, but you are not sure how they prefer you to express your caring, since they are now older. Sometimes these discussions will help you continue to have contact with a teen who is rethinking how they will be in the world. Adolescents especially do not want to be identified and singled out as “the kid whose parent died”. It does not mean that they are embarrassed, but it usually means that, as is common for teenagers, they want to be like others in their peer group, not to be seen as different in any way.