Enhance Your Funeral Home’s Aftercare with These Grief Resources for Children

Children deal with death and grief in different ways. Some may become angry and aggressive, some may ask questions and some may continue on as if nothing happened. Regardless of how a child deals with grief, it is important to understand how to properly handle the child’s reaction to the loss of a loved one.

Keep reading to discover some tips and grief resources that funeral professionals can share with their client families to help children navigate the loss of a loved one.

How Children View Death

Children view death in a variety of ways depending on their age. A teen has a better understanding of the concept of death than a preschooler and will react in a much different way. If you understand how children might view death, you will be better equipped to empathize with them and their feelings.

Ages 3 to 6

Preschool-aged children (three to six years old), don’t have a very clear view of death. At this age, children will often view death as temporary and reversible. They think they can bring the person back by “being good” and doing things such as cleaning their room or eating their vegetables. They can also feel incredibly guilty, as if it was their fault because they were “being naughty” or wished the person would go away. Oftentimes, children at this age can’t properly put their emotions into words so they begin to become more irritable, aggressive and some even regress developmentally (for example, wetting the bed after being potty-trained).

With this age group, it is very important to keep routines consistent. Having consistency helps a child feel safe. Since young children have difficulty verbally expressing their emotions, suggest they draw a picture to explain how they are feeling.

Ages 6 to 12

Older children (six to 12 years old) understand death as permanent and irreversible. They comprehend that everybody dies at some point and even associate dead people with angels or ghosts. At this age, they start to ask more questions about what happens after you die and what happens to the body. Older children still struggle to put their emotions into words and may express them in a different way. It is not uncommon for kids this age to avoid school or pull away from their friends and family. They may begin to feel insecure, clingy or abandoned as they worry about who will take care of them when their parents die.

Suggest that the child spend time with friends and continue a normal routine. Reassure them with love, and explain that what they’re feeling is normal. If possible, without overwhelming them, share your feelings of grief with the child. If they see that they are not the only one feeling sad, it may encourage them to talk about how they feel.

Ages 12 to 18

Teens (12 to 18 years old) have the best understanding about death. They are the closest to having an adult view but still struggle to handle their emotions like an adult. They don’t possess the life experiences or coping mechanisms to properly deal with death. Because of this, they may become reckless and impulsive and begin to pull away from family. They often find comfort in their friends or wish to be left alone.

To help teens cope with death, if they don’t want to speak to the family about it, suggest that they talk to an adult outside of the family, such as a teacher, pastor or counselor. Talking through their emotions with an outside person may help them sort out their feelings.

Tips to Share with parents 


Talk with Your Children About Death

Taking time to sit down and talk with children about death can help them better understand what is going on. Knowing what to say to them can be difficult, especially with younger children who require simplistic answers, something they can wrap their head around. If your explanation becomes too long or complicated, they may become disinterested or confused.

In Dr. Earl A. Grollman’s book Explaining Death to Children, he suggests that adults use normal everyday functions to explain death to younger children. For example, explain to a child that when a person dies, they no longer talk, eat or breathe. By being able to compare it to something they do every day, they will be able to better understand.

Adults also need to be careful about how they explain death to young children. Most adults think children are too young or innocent to hear the word “dead” or “died,” so they say “they are no longer with us” or “they went away.” This can cause confusion to a young child and can create separation anxiety. If you say “Uncle Dave went away, ” for example, they may become worried about small separations, like going to school. It would also be a good idea to avoid the saying “death is like sleeping,” as this statement could lead to a fear of going to sleep. Children may start to believe if they go to sleep, they might not wake up. This can lead to cranky children and parents alike.

Regardless of when you sit down and talk to the child, it is important to use age-appropriate words and explanations.

Take Time to Answer Your Children's Questions

Children are very curious. They learn about the world by asking questions. It should be no shock that they’re going to ask questions about death. It is important you take the time to listen and answer them, no matter how hard the questions may be.

When answering, remember to use age-appropriate language. Make sure when you explain something to a child, they understand what you are telling them. Children sometimes confuse what they’ve heard, so ask them if they understand and if they have any questions before moving on. You may even prompt them to explain it back to you so you know they understand. Immediately following the death, children may not have a lot of questions. You should be prepared to answer any questions they will have down the road. 

Keep in mind that each child grieves differently and no two experiences are alike. No matter how a child grieves, it is important to keep the dialogue open and honest so they feel comfortable expressing their emotions. Don’t shy away from their questions or give vague answers — it will only confuse them. Be patient and understanding. If you are struggling to help them through the grieving process or having difficulty bringing up the conversation, here are some additional resources that could point you in the right direction:


Additional Grief Resources for Children


When Your Grandparent Dies: A Child’s Guide to Good Grief 

Written by Victoria Ryan

In this book, an elf character helps children navigate a grandparent’s death in terms they can understand. The book explains what death means and provides guidance and discussion questions about how they can remember their loved one.

Sad Isn’t Bad: A Good-Grief Guidebook for Kids Dealing with Loss 

Written by Michaelene Mundy

Another book in the “elf-help” series, this resource provides a practical, realistic look at what loss means from a child’s perspective. Its affirming message encourages children to share their emotions after the death of a loved one.

When My Baba Died 

Written by Marjorie Kunch

Designed for children ages four to eight, this book follows an Orthodox Christian family whose loved one dies. It answers some of the most common questions children have about death and funerals, helping to alleviate some of their fears.

After the Funeral 

Written by Jane Loretta Winsch

The grief of losing a loved one can be confusing and frightening for a child. This book features a simple format that addresses these emotions and can help caregivers provide support to a child and as their family moves toward acceptance and hope.

Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss 

Written by Chuck DeKlyen

This resource is intended to be a tool for the whole family after the loss of a loved one. Through the narrative device of preparing “tear soup,” the author shares tips for various scenarios (including children coping with grief) that help put the experience in context for anyone reading the book.

I Miss You: A First Look at Death 

Written by Pat Thomas

Written with a simple storyline and straightforward presentation, this book explains to children that death is a natural part of life. It includes a “how to use this book” section to help caregivers approach the topics of dying and grief with children in understandable ways.

The Grieving Teen: A Guide for Teenagers and Their Friends 

Written by Helen Fitzgerald

This compassionate guide addresses the unique needs of adolescents struggling with loss, and gives teens the resources they need to cope with their pain and grief.

Where Are You: A Child’s Book About Loss 

Written by Laura Olivieri

This is another resource that explains death in simple terms through both text and illustrations. The story depicted in the book is designed to help children recognize the validity of their emotions and encourage a dialogue about how grief is affecting them.

What children’s grief support resources have you found valuable for families in your community? Please feel free to share your recommendations in the comments below.

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