The end is part of life, but we keep it away. Real death is not present in the child’s life. The child is a witness to the fictional death, in movies or television series. But actual death remains remote from family life; hidden in hospitals and funeral homes.
The death of a relative immerses the child in confusion, and fills him with fears about the care he will receive in the future.
Parents should know the typical reactions of children to the death of a loved one, as well as signs that the child is having difficulty coping with grief.
Evolution of the idea of death in the child
- 0 – 2 years: the child reacts with incomprehension and indifference to death.
- 2 – 6 years: the child understands death as a transitory event, something mythical.
- By age 6: the child begins to accept the universality of death.
- 6 – 9 years: concrete representations about death start; who has died is still representable in time and space. Towards the age of 9, the death of feelings of guilt separates.
- 9 – 11 years: the stage of the vital anguish and philosophical, metaphysical, religious, …
- For the adolescent, death is an inevitable and universal fact. He worries about the “beyond” and may feel fear in the face of a long and painful death. You can deny your death in a flight reaction, relying on a feeling of invulnerability.
The manifestations of grief in the child
The child can manifest his pain in different ways depending on his age. Particular attention must be paid to regressions to past behaviors or school difficulties. Anger reactions are typical when the deceased was essential in the child’s life. It can manifest itself in violent games, nightmares, irritability or anger towards the surviving members of the family.
When these problems persist over time, beyond the first six months, or are manifested with high intensity, attention may be useful by the paidopsiquiatra or other mental health professional.