Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy and
Marital Therapy Centre

Mourning in Children - The Concept of Death

Mourning in Children - The Concept of Death

The death of a loved one is one of the most difficult and abstract concepts for any of us to comprehend. While considering this abstract concept from the point of view of children, we need to be aware of the relationship between a child's age and their ability to process and understand death.

The death concept before the age of 5:

This ıs the “concrete thinking” age period; it is difficult to conceptualise death because abstract thinking has not developed. Children do not understand it as something that will happen to everyone, but as something reversible that only adults experience. This is known as the omnipotent period. Children may think that they have caused the death and that they can bring the dead person back.

The death concept between the ages of 5 and 10:

Even though abstract thinking is starting to form, it is not yet fully developed. Children in this age range should learn about the death process by attending funerals and visiting cemeteries.

How to discuss the news of a death with children:

-Children should be told the news somewhere they feel safe, by the person they feel safest with. This might be their mother, father, or someone they are very close to in the family
-Break the news clearly, without withholding anything
-Explain what has happened using age-appropriate examples
-Allow the child to express themselves by crying, shouting or throwing tantrums after receiving the news
-Express your own feelings without underplaying or exaggerating them
-Take the child to the funeral to help them comprehend the reality of the situation, regardless of their age
-Don't insist on talking about it if the child doesn't want to
-Don't make them feel ashamed if they respond to the news by laughing and playing
-Remember that we all react differently to grief and that we should respect every expression of it

Professional help is recommended for:

-Parents who feel they aren't getting through to their child, despite their best efforts to explain what has happened. A trained therapist can teach parents more effective ways of explaining death to children  
-Children who cannot cope after the grieving process, a situation which may interfere with healthy psychological development 

For more information or to make an appointment with one of our therapists, please call or email Face to Face Therapia: 
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