a kid looking out the window

Death and grief are challenging experiences for anyone, and for children, these events can be particularly painful. Younger kids have limited vocabulary and might not find words to describe how they feel. Older kids understand a lot more than we think they do and would need different kinds of help from their parents or caregivers. When children are shown how to process grief in a developmentally appropriate way, they can process the information in a healthy and emotionally-supportive way. 

6 tips to help kids deal with grief and death: 

1. Use age-appropriate ways to explain death

Children 3 years and younger are too young to understand death. Between ages 3 and 6 years, they understand death but not that it is permanent. For them, death is just a punishment and can be reversed and also feel that they’ll “catch” it if they are bad. Between 6 to 9 years, they begin to understand that death’s permanent but it only happens to old people. 

By early years of teens, they understand the complexity of death and that it can happen to anyone. They are more curious about the afterlife and feel a loss of control imagining themselves in that situation. If death happened to a loved one, either a parent, sibling, or family member, they might blame themselves for it. 

When it comes to older teens, death can bring anger of guilt. They may be curious about the meaning of death, life, spiritual and religious beliefs. They also think that they are invincible and that death won’t happen to them.

2. Be Honest and Clear

Use simple, clear terms and avoid euphemisms like “passed away” or “sleeping” that can confuse younger children. It’s okay to use the word “died” because it helps them understand the permanence of the situation. Explain in a gentle manner that the person won’t be coming back, but ensure that the child feels supported and not alone in their feelings.

a parent helping their kid in the kitchen

3. Provide a Sense of Security

Children thrive on routine and stability. When a loved one dies, this security can be shaken. Strive to keep daily routines as normal as possible and reassure them that they are safe. It’s also helpful to let them know that it’s normal for grief to cause a range of emotions, and these feelings might come and go.

4. Encourage Expressions of Grief

Children may not always use words to express how they feel. Encourage them to draw, write, or engage in activities through which they can express their feelings. Do an activity today to memorialize the person. For example, drawing a picture of a memory they had with a loved one or writing a letter to them. 

If your child isn’t ready to engage in the activity, give them some space. You can start the activity on your own, and seeing you involved might inspire them to join in when they feel more comfortable.

5. Share Your Own Feelings

It’s good for children to see that they are not alone in feeling grief. Share your emotions about the feeling and how you’re coping in a healthy way. Tell them about your sadness, but also share the ways you manage your feelings, such as talking with friends, writing in a journal, or preserving memories of the person who has died.

6. Help Them Remember the Deceased

This works well with kids of all ages. Make a memory box or a photo album of the deceased and encourage them to fill it with items that remind them of the person—photos, a favorite book of the deceased, or a trinket that belonged to them. You can also do something special on your loved one’s death anniversary together to keep their memory alive. 


If you feel your child is still having a difficult time, ask for help. As a grief psychotherapist, I am here to provide the support your family needs during this challenging time. Set up a call with me today.

Jennifer Pinto

Death and grief are challenging experiences for anyone, and for children, these events can be particularly painful. Younger kids have limited vocabulary and might not find words to describe how they feel. Older kids understand a lot more than we think they do and would need different kinds of help from their parents or caregivers….

Hi, I am Jennifer Pinto. I am a registered Social Worker and obtained my Masters' Degree from University of Toronto in 2010 with a specialization in Children and Families. I also completed an Honors BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from York University in 2003.

For more than 20 years I've worked with various populations and different settings ranging from pediatric healthcare, mental health community agencies and education systems.

https://jenniferpintopsychotherapy.ca/