Different views of death

In preparing children for the loss of a parent or another significant person, it’s helpful to understand how death is perceived at different ages. Children’s grief may be expressed through play or behaviour.

Learn about the different views of:

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Newborns, infants and toddlers (0-3 years)

Babies don’t have any knowledge of death, but can sense when their routine is disrupted and when their carers are absent. Toddlers often confuse death with sleep and do not understand its permanence.

Possible reactions

Suggested approaches

  • babies: unsettled and clingy
  • toddlers: may worry persistently about the well parent and think that they or their behaviour caused the advanced cancer
  • may also be angry with parents for not being able to give them more attention
  • avoid explaining death as “sleeping”, because that can cause distress about sleep
  • provide comfort
  • be prepared to patiently answer the same questions many times
  • maintain routines and boundaries

Preschoolers (3-5 years)

By the preschool years, children are starting to understand the concept of death but struggle with its permanence (e.g. they may ask when the dead parent is coming home). Young children don’t have an adult concept of time and understand only what’s happening now.

Possible reactions

Suggested approaches

  • may feel it is somehow their fault
  • may be angry with their parent for not giving them enough attention
  • can react as if they were much younger when under stress
  • may have frightening dreams
  • may keep asking about death
  • watch their play for clues to their feelings
  • offer comfort
  • answer questions in an open, honest way
  • maintain routines and boundaries

Primary schoolchildren (5-12 years)

By the primary school years, children may understand death but often don’t have the emotional maturity to deal with it. Younger children may think death is reversible and that they are responsible.

Possible reactions

Suggested approaches

  • may be openly sad or distressed
  • may express anger
  • may worry about being responsible for the death, but also might blame someone else
  • may ask confronting questions about what happens when somebody dies
  • may be more able to talk about their feelings and act sympathetically
  • encourage them to talk, but realise they may find it easier to confide in friends, teachers or other trusted people
  • provide plenty of physical and verbal expressions of love
  • be sensitive but straightforward
  • discuss changes to family roles
  • provide privacy as needed
  • maintain routines and boundaries

Teenagers (12-18 years)

Teenagers can understand death, but may not have the emotional capacity to deal with its impact. They need as much preparation as possible for a parent’s death. Like adults, teenagers’ responses to death vary. Some may be more upset when their parent is unwell than following the death, others become distressed after the death.

Possible reactions

Suggested approaches

  • may deny their feelings or hide them in order to protect you
  • may think they can handle it alone and not look for support, or may distance themselves from family and talk to friends instead
  • may react in a self-centred way and worry about not being able to do their normal activities
  • may express distress through risk-taking behaviours (e.g. skipping classes, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, acting recklessly)
  • worry that death is frightening or painful, and struggle with their own mortality
  • encourage them to talk about their feelings with friends or another trusted adult
  • support them to express their feelings in positive ways (e.g. listening to music, playing sports, writing in a journal)
  • negotiate role changes in the family
  • maintain routines and boundaries
  • let them know that support and counselling are available (see page 51 for some options)
  • offer them the opportunity to participate in a public or private memorial service

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Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

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To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
Need more information? Visit: http://www.kobo.com/help/koboaura/response/?id=3784&type=3

Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

Need more help? Visit: https://au.readerstore.sony.com/apps_and_devices/

Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=help_search_1-1?ie=UTF8&nodeId=200767340&qid=1395967989&sr=1-1
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit www.amazon.com/manageyourkindle, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
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Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in December 2018
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What is grief?
A natural response to loss can involve a range of feelings and experiences