Preparing Children for Death: Ages 6-9 Years

Patient & Family Teaching Sheet

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How Should Adults Prepare Children Ages 6-9 for Death?

Adults sometimes feel children are too fragile or too young to face the reality of death. Children experience the same emotions adults do; most are emotionally strong enough and want to know about death. The truth helps them to understand what is real and what is not. Grieving is natural – at any age. Recognizing and supporting their unique grief processes helps children grow emotionally and heal as they learn to live with a painful loss. It is important that the help offered is age appropriate since age affects how children understand death. School-aged children 6-9 years:

  • Are beginning to understand that death is final.
  • May need more facts about death or how a loved one died and may be curious about the physical details.

How to Explain Death and Dying

  • The person talking to the child should be someone the child knows and trusts, and the conversation should happen in a quiet, private place.
  • Tell the truth; explain what “dead” means. Keep it simple by saying the person’s “body stopped working” and that the child will never see that person again except through memories or photographs.
  • State the facts. Say a person “died/is dying,” not that he/she “went/is going away,” “passed/is passing to the other side,” or “went/is going to sleep.” When these descriptions are used, the child may expect the person to return or wake up. Also, if the person died of illness, explain how the person was very, very sick so the child will not be scared when he/she gets a minor illness.
  • Talk about emotions and feeling Tell the child it is okay to cry or to feel angry or sad.
  • Explain that it is a scary, confusing time. Allow the child to see adults crying, express emotions, and ask questions.

Signs and symptoms of Grieving/Mourning

  • Anxiety – The child may be clingy or demanding, lose his/her sense of security, or fear losing another loved one.
  • Sleep difficulty – This is common, especially if the word “sleep” was used by someone to describe death. The child may even have nightmares.
  • Behavior changes, such as “acting out” – The child may be angry at death, God, other adults, or himself/hers He/she may feel responsible.
  • Withdrawal or attempts to hide feelings – The child may not want to talk about the dying loved one and may hide in his/her room.
  • School/health problems – The child may have difficulty concentrating or may experience headaches, stomach aches, or similar symptoms as the person who is ill or has
  • Denial – Refusing to admit the death happened and fear that other loved ones will die can also be symptom

What to report to the care team?

  • Any kind of extreme physical or emotional behavior should be reported.

Should Children Visit the Dying or Attend Funerals?

  • Visitation depends on the A visit may help the child by lessening the mystery of death. If the child can understand, and the dying person has played an important role in his/her life, then a visit may be good for both the child and the dying person.
  • The child needs to be prepared for what he/she will see and hear. A picture and description of the equipment in the room may help.
  • A visit may help the child to develop more realistic ways of coping with death. A child should never be forced to visit a dying patient or go to a funeral or funeral home. No child should be made to feel guilty for not wanting to be involved.
  • A child should attend a funeral if he/she wants to go and is old enough to understand the ev Rituals can be an important part of the grieving process. Explain what the child will see and hear, especially if there will be a viewing. Give the child a choice and try to understand the child’s reasons for wanting to attend. Be prepared to address any fears or misconceptions and answer questions.

What Else Can be Done to Help Children?

  • Reassure the child that the death was not his/her fault and that he/she will be loved and cared for.
  • It may take some time for a child to r Be present and attentive.
  • Allow the child to play and have fun.
  • Rituals are important at this stage and can help the situation to seem more r Allow a child who is interested to participate in a funeral or memorial service.
  • Certain books may help a child become aware of feelings and talk about them. If a child identifies with a character in a book who shares similar feelings about death and dying, it can help the healing pr Ask your nurse to recommend appropriate books.

The grieving process is normal, and mourning helps adults and children heal from the pain that comes with loss. If you have questions or concerns, please contact the hospice or palliative care team, a bereavement group, a religious advisor, or a professional counselor.