Children's reactions and understanding of death can depend on their development age, so we have listed below more information based on age but if you require more specific details, please get in touch.

Under 5 Years

Children of this age have a limited understanding of things around them. They tend to believe in magical things such as fairies and witches and think things are reversible like in story books. They also tend to blame themselves when a loved one has died or is dying. They may think it was their behaviour which caused this to happen and that they can do something to reverse the situation. Talking openly to them is vital to reassure them that it was not their fault and that they are loved.

You will need to take great care with your language to help them understand that the person who has died cannot come back.

Common reactions:

  • Crying and tantrums.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Bad dreams/disturbed sleep routine.
  • Regression in developmental stages. Bed wetting, toilet training etc.
  • Clingy to adults who care for them.
  • Blaming themselves.
  • Asking the same questions over and over again.
  • Attention seeking through bad behaviour or needing additional help with things.

6-11 Years (Primary school age)

Children of primary school age have a better understanding of the world around them. Peers and school teachers become increasingly important so the family unit is no longer their only sphere of influence. However, they are still very dependent on parents and need stability in their home life as they develop new bonds elsewhere.

When somebody dies, they may be curious about details such as what will happen to the body, what the person will feel, how they will keep warm.

Despite their higher level of understanding, they may still need reassurance that it is not their fault.

From the age of 6 or 7 children begin to understand the concept of death being final but still may be very confused about it. They may think of death as something spooky (as depicted by graveyards and ghosts in stories).

They need encouragement to share their feelings and worries.

Children sometimes act out death or funerals. This kind of role playing may seem bizarre to adults but is a way of helping them make sense of the world.

Talking can help them gain confidence in understanding what has happened and controlling their emotions.


Common reactions:

  • Feelings of extreme loss and loneliness.
  • Feeling different from other children.
  • Anger and disbelief.
  • Blaming themselves.
  • Worrying about their security.
  • Worrying about remaining parent.
  • Reminiscing about how things were.
  • Needing to talk and ask questions to understand what is happening and how it will affect them.
  • Attention seeking behaviour.
  • More susceptible to illness.
  • Problems with school work, concentration and motivation.

Young People 12+ Years

Children at this age are beginning to develop their independence and there is a strong focus towards friendship groups and exploring life beyond their family. They will have a greater awareness and understanding of things around them but may have their own opinions and answers. It is a vulnerable age because although they want more independence from parents, they are still heavily reliant on parental guidance and support. After the trauma of losing someone, they may feel angry or unsettled that this has happened to them when they want to be getting on with their own lives. They may also suffer from feeling different to their peers when they don't want to.

It is important for children of this age to be encouraged to communicate and to feel that they are not alone. Local support groups, such as our Monthly Peer Group, or online forums can be helpful.

Common reactions:

  • Depression
  • Disbelief
  • Anger/ aggression.
  • Guilt
  • Embarrassment 
  • Numbness
  • Anxiety
  • Acting more grown up or trying to hide feelings.
  • Problems with school work, concentration and motivation.
  • Running away or not wanting to go to school.
  • Low self-esteem.