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Young Children and Grief

Children under the age of 5 will feel significant loss keenly, regardless of their age. They may appear at times not affected by it but this is because:

‘Children cannot handle strong emotions for long periods, and may jump quickly in and out of grief ('puddle jumping').’

Child Bereavement Network

Grieving for someone significant to them who has died

There are some broad developmental descriptors relating to children’s understanding of death but their responses to it, their expressions of grief will also vary according to a range of factors: adult reactions; adult input; religious/spiritual practices.

With thanks to Marie Curie

Young children will grieve for other significant loss such as:

  • Parental separation
  • Parent sent to prison
  • Being forced to move home and/or school

The more losses a child has, the longer the grief process.

How to help:

  1. Maintain your good practice of having a key person who can give the child time and space to have a cuddle, ask questions, read books, draw, paint, play.
  2. The key person can also maintaining a close link with home, checking out what the child has already been told about the death; how the family approach grieving, mourning and death; how the child is mourning their loss (not a bereavement) and how they are being supported.
  3. It is recommended to give concise, factual information to young children rather than talk about ‘heaven’, ‘passed away.’

Useful links:

has a specific Early Years section

for all ages

External blog: On Death and Dying – And Deaf and Hard of Hearing Kids (Raising a deaf or hard of hearing child - Hands & Voices)

Helpful books:

  • Muddles, Puddles and Sunshine: Your Activity Book to Help When Someone Has Died) (2001) by Diana Crossley and Kate Sheppard (Hawthorn Press)
  • The invisible string (2000) by Patrice Karst and Geoff Stevenson (DeVorss and Co)  3+
  • Always and Forever (2003) by Alain Durant(Penguin Random House Children's UK)
  • The memory tree (2013) by Britta Teckentrup (Hachette Children’s Group)
  • Badger’s parting gifts (1984) by Susan Varley (Anderson Press)


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