Differences in Grief patterns by age
- 0-3 year olds will not understand what death is, but they are capable of noticing changes in their environment. They will worry that mommy and daddy are sad and be anxious about visitors who seem to trigger her sadness.
- 3-5 year olds are beginning to understand that death means that someone is missing, but they don't understand the permanence of it. They may connect unrelated thoughts, actions, or events in an attempt to try to figure out what happened. It is important to avoid euphemisms with this age. When we told Jack that we had lost Charlotte, his eyes grew wide and he asked, "How can we find her, mommy?" This age group needs to be reassured that it is ok to show their grief, and to be shown ways to express it.
- 6-9 year olds have a better understanding of the permanence of death, but they still lack clarity about what it actually is. To many, death may be a monster that frightens them. They don't believe that death is something that could really happen to them. This age group tends to be curious about the physical details of a death. They still have some misconceptions about language, so it is important to avoid euphemisms.
- 9-12 year olds have likely experienced the death of a pet, or perhaps even a relative. They understand that death is permanent, but still see it as something that could not afflict them personally. Like the 6-9 year old, this age group is fascinated by the physical elements of dying. They may begin to think about how the lack of the person who has died might impact them in the future.
- Adolescents display a mix of emotions surrounding death. They understand that it is permanent and that all living things eventually die. They are both fascinated and frightened by death; just consider the books and movies that tend to appeal to this age group. They are trying to figure out who they are and can teeter between the egocentrism of a much younger child and the empathy of an adult. Some teens may feel that they should be responding to the death in an "adult way" and try to hide or dismiss the grief that they feel. This group is particularly sensitive to being perceived as different from their peers and may push grief aside if it compromises them in a social setting.