Research shows that a child's understanding of death will vary according to their age and stage of development.

With children aged 4 and under, it is common for them to not have the vocabulary they need to describe their range of feelings, which may include sadness, shock, anger, confusion, loneliness, guilt, fear, regret etc. You may notice that they may instead show how they feel through their behaviour.

Whilst babies are too young to understand the concept of death, they will:

  • miss people with whom they had an attachment
  • pick up on the emotional distress and moods of those around them
  • be aware of and unsettled by changes to their routine

Toddlers and pre-school aged children may:

  • have a clearer sense that someone is missing but are not able to understand the permanence of death
  • expect the person who has died to return and may search for them
  • ask very direct questions and be interested in morbid details
  • keep asking the same questions to try to make sense of their confusion
  • have disrupted eating & sleeping patterns
  • regress in their behaviour for a period of time
  • become anxious when they are separated from their main carer
  • initially find it difficult to start school
  • express their feelings through their play

Our experience has shown that children in this age group need:

  • physical comfort
  • consistency of care
  • to keep to routines
  • to avoid new changes where possible
  • simple explanations
  • honest answers to their questions