Preschool children often have a hard time understanding the concept of death and its permanence. Sometimes they need clarity that the person is no longer sleeping, eating, feeling or living anymore. Avoid adult language that confuses this concept such as “the person passed away” or euphemisms for sleep such as “they are resting in peace” or explanations such as “the person went away” as these are potentially more confusing. Young children sometimes worry about the deceased and think that they can do something to bring them back. Social workers or counselors sometimes use children’s books to explain the concept of death.
School-age children understand that death is permanent, but they do not understand how to explain the causes of death and often mistaken death for fictional characters such as monsters. Young children may also take the blame for death which is again a misunderstanding of how people die. They also tend to become fearful that other people who are close to them will die. Young children need reassurance.
Teens understand the concept of death but may grapple with larger questions of purpose, meaning of life and can lose a sense of security. Some may consider questioning their life plans and find it difficult to maintain regular routines. It’s common for young people to experience the range of emotions and phases of grief that adults do, and will need support expressing themselves.