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Helping Your School-Age Child Cope With Death

The death of a loved one is a stressful and sad time for all members of a family. During these difficult times, it is important to know how best to support your child.

Many different providers can help your child deal with the death of a friend or family member. They include:

It is also important for you to talk with your school-age child in ways they understand. This can help them deal with their grief.

Mother consoling young female child.

It's important to talk to your school-age child about grief.

How to talk about death

Use concrete words such as “dead” and clear wording such as “her body stopped working.”

Avoid phrases such as “passed away,” “gone to sleep,” or “taken to a better place.” 

Remember to include your religious beliefs when you discuss death with your child. However, avoid saying that God “took someone to be with him.” Your child may begin to fear that God will take them away, too.

Possible questions

Your child might have many questions about death. Answer the questions you can as clearly and honestly as possible. There may be questions you cannot answer. Be honest about that, too.

Here are some questions your school-age child might ask when a family member or friend has died.

Common reactions

These are some of the most common reactions school-age children have:

  • Anxiety
  • Crying
  • Denial
  • Guilt
  • Withdrawal
  • Anger
  • Drop in grades
  • Acting younger than their age
  • Daydreaming or not paying attention
  • Fear of his own death or the death of a caregiver
  • Physical responses, such as stomach aches, headaches, etc.

Ways to help

  • Model healthy grieving. It is acceptable for your child to see you cry.
  • Encourage your child to express his feelings.
  • Tell your child it is normal to feel sad, angry, and scared about death. It will help them to know that everyone has a mix of strong feelings when someone close to them dies.
  • If your child has false ideas about death, help them understand the truth.
  • Give your child a chance to tell the special person things that he may have wanted to say.
  • Allow your child to release energy through physical activities.
  • Set limits for aggressive behavior. However, know that your child might act younger than their age while they are trying to cope with this death.
  • Encourage your child to write stories, poems, or music about their feelings or about the person who has died.
  • Read books about death and loss that fit your child’s age. You can find these at the library or a bookstore. Ask your child’s care team for ideas.

Key Points

  • You should use clear, age-appropriate language when talking with your school-age child about death. Use clear wording such as “died” instead of phrases like “passed away” or “went to sleep.”  
  • Answer questions clearly and honestly. 
  • Remember that children this age can grasp what death is. But they may have more complicated questions about it. 
  • Have patience as your child works through grief.  

Reviewed: August 2022