SIDS Program Manual SIDS & Infant Death Program Manual and Trainer's Guide Trainer's Guide

Bereavement Support Services

Children's Grief

Children's Grief

Children are impacted by the death of infants in their role as siblings, family members or peers. As bereaved children have special needs, families need to be provided information on how children react to grief and bereavement. Children’s understanding of death is influenced by both their developmental stage and by their past experiences.

  • Children younger than age 2 do not understand death. They may be clingy, cranky or display regressed behavior. They need routines to be maintained and physical reassurance.
  • Preschool children may view death as temporary or reversible. Children’s reactions may include showing no reaction, aggression, separation anxiety and talking or acting out death. They need facts presented briefly and simply. Children may ask insensitive questions that are disturbing to parents or adults but are normal. Children need reassurance that they will always be cared for and not separated from their parents.
  • School-age children between ages 5 and 9 may understand that death is permanent and that all people and animals will die, but may still not believe that they may die. They may react by not showing any reaction or they may experience sadness, anger, confusion or guilt for causing the death. They may also worry about parents or others dying. They need death explained in concrete terms, reassurance of their own safety and all questions answered.
  • From ages 9 to 12, children will understand that death is final and they and others will die. They may still see death as a punishment for their thoughts and feelings.
  • Teenagers understand that death is final, and that they will also die. They think like adults and may feel sadness, pain, guilt and anger like adults do. Some teenagers may want to be able to talk about the death while others do not. They may feel self-conscious about expressing grief in public.

Normal childhood responses to death include intense grieving altering with normal childhood play. Children experience what they can handle and then move on until later. Sad feelings may persist for long periods of time.