Children’s Grief Awareness Ages 7-12 years old

Posted on November 17, 2022 by Rev. Pam Reidy under children and death
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November is Children’s Grief Awareness month and I encourage readers to become better prepared to help children manage grief.  Here I draw on the work of Kelly Baltzell M.A. & Karin Baltzell PhD to explore how children view death, signs they may be struggling with grief, and strategies we can use to help them grieve well. This week I reflect on the grief of children over the age of seven.

Bruce is Sam’s best friend; they are eight years old.  Sam’s mother had been sick for some time and recently died at home. Sam spent a lot of time at Bruce’s house over the past few months. Although the adults around them included the boys in the death, making books available, talking openly about death and involving them in the services, both Bruce and Sam have become introverted and unwilling to talk about it. The adults in their lives are worried about them. 

Children of Bruce and Sam’s age understand that death is final, but believe death happens only to old people. The death of a younger person or unexpected loss of life will generate lots of questions. For children of seven and eight, death poses the dilemma that things are not permanent and that we cannot control some changes. It should not trouble us that we do not have answers for them about the mysteries of life. Allowing children of this age to investigate ideas around death is important to their peace and their growth. Do not fear their many questions  as they investigate ideas of death.

Becoming clingy may be a sign children fear losing you, developing hypochondria may signal they are afraid they will die, or sudden aggressiveness may be their anger that their loved one left or  that their world has changed. Talking about death openly is important, sharing your feelings about a death is healthy, using words that reflect the true nature of death (no baby talk) is vital. Bruce and Sam need healthy, honest conversation and reassurance that thinking about death is acceptable and their curiosity is appropriate.

Jane is twelve years old and in the sixth grade. Her beloved school teacher passed away in an accident while they were on school vacation. The new teacher has read Jane’s class several stories about grief and loss and is patient and kind with their questions. She is well-equipped to discuss grief and loss with the students.  Although each student’s family explains the sudden loss of life within their own values and history, the class has shared a common loss and their teacher is committed to addressing their loss in a healthy way. 

Children over the age of nine are well aware that death is a natural part of life. Jane and her classmates understand that death is final, realizing that we do not control when or how life ends. Accustomed to accommodating adults and able to understand the reasoning behind adult actions, Jane and her classmates can be guided through their loss with open conversation that includes sharing their own emotions, ideas, and thoughts on concepts such as the afterlife, fear of death, and the anxieties of loss. Since pre-adolescence is a time to test the waters, it is important to realize that kids this age often express ideas or thoughts that they are “testing” rather than “believing.”  Be patient as they “try on” different theories, emotions, behaviors and beliefs in establishing what is true for them.  Be on the lookout for reactions of shock, anxiety, denial, fear, anger or depression which are all natural reactions that could get out of control.

No matter what the age or the circumstance of death, most children are resilient and can be safely guided through loss. When there is concern that a child of any age or circumstance is in danger physically or emotionally as they navigate a loss, it is up to the adults in their life to get them the help they need.  Know your local resources and do not be afraid to use them. School psychologists, your primary care physician, ministers, and funeral directors, are all good people to contact when looking for local resources for grieving children.

For educating yourself about children’s grief I recommend:

  • Healing a Child’s Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas for Families, Friends and Caregivers Paperback – April 1, 2001, by Alan Wolfelt
  • 12 Simple Tips and Tools to Help Your Grieving Child: What I Wish I Had Known When My Son Died (Kid Talk Grief) Paperback – April 7, 2021, by Mel Erickson
  • The Grieving Child: A Parent’s Guide Paperback – July 1, 1992, by Helen Fitzgerald


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