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Child on a swingGrief is a delicate and sometimes difficult journey. A child’s understanding and expression of grief and loss around death are often markedly different from that of an adult. This post offers insights into childhood grief, age-appropriate ways to discuss loss, and activities to facilitate emotional expression and healing.

Discussing Death with Children: Age-Appropriate Strategies

Recognizing developmental differences in a child’s understanding of grief is crucial in providing appropriate support (Wolfelt, 2016)2. Children’s concepts of death and loss evolve with age, influencing their reactions and needs during the grieving process. Younger children may view death as reversible or temporary, while older children begin to grasp its permanency. Please note that each family will have their own unique culture, values, and beliefs that may differ from the following recommendations.

Preschool (Ages 3-5): Use simple, clear words to explain death. Avoid confusing euphemisms such as “passed away” or “sleeping.” Explain that the person has died, which means they won’t be coming back, but reassure them of the continued love and support from those around them.

School-Age (Ages 6-12): Children begin to become more curious and ask complex questions about death, such as causes and implications. Be transparent with your child, and provide honest, straightforward answers. Encourage them to share their feelings and let them know it’s okay to feel sad, angry, or confused.

Teens (Ages 13-18): Teenagers have a more adult understanding of death but may still struggle with identifying and expressing their emotions. Encourage open discussions and model being honest about your feelings, as this can encourage them to share their own.

Activities to Help Children Express Feelings and Heal

  1. Memory Boxes: Creating a memory box can help children externalize their memories and feelings. Encourage them to fill a box with photos, mementos, or anything that reminds them of the person they’ve lost. This provides a tangible connection to their memories and can be a comforting presence during the grieving process.
  2. Art and Writing: Expressive arts can be a powerful outlet for children’s emotions, allowing them to express complex feelings that they may not have the words to describe (Malchiodi, 2012)2. Drawing, painting, or journaling about their feelings and memories can help children to process their grief.
  3. Nature Walks: Engaging with nature can be grounding and connects us with new perspectives on life and death. A walk in a park, a stroll in the garden, or trying out a nature trail can be an opportunity to talk about the cycles of life and death in a natural, comforting setting.
  4. Rituals and Remembrance Activities: Participating in rituals can provide a sense of continuity and connection. Such activities may include lighting a candle or planting a tree in memory of the loved one, which can provide a space to honor the loved one while also providing opportunities for further connection and discussion.


Supporting a child through grief and loss can be challenging. By engaging in age-appropriate discussions and therapeutic activities, parents can guide their children through the grieving process, helping them emerge with a deeper understanding of life, loss, and the healing power of connection and social support. Through sensitive communication and therapeutic activities, you can support your child’s emotional growth and resilience in the face of loss.


  1. Wolfelt, A. (2016). Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart. Companion Press. This resource emphasizes the uniqueness of every individual’s grief journey and offers compassionate insights into navigating the process.
  2. Malchiodi, C. (2012). Handbook of Art Therapy. Guilford Press. Malchiodi discusses the therapeutic benefits of art for children experiencing grief, providing evidence-based approaches to facilitating expression and healing.

Written by Amanda Howard, Ph.D.