Because babies and young children are very aware of their environment and the emotions of those around them, it’s likely that they will notice if someone is no longer there - or if the adults in their life are grieving. If they are not given information from adults, they may attempt to make sense of the situation on their own.
Around 90% of children will experience a significant bereavement before the age of sixteen years. For some, the death of a parent, carer, sibling or grandparent will happen in the early years of their life. Because babies and young children are very aware of their environment and the emotions of those around them, it’s likely that they will notice if someone is no longer there - or if the adults in their life are grieving. If they are not given information from adults, they may attempt to make sense of the situation on their own.
Some reactions to bereavement:
Babies can notice the absence of a regular caregiver, for example a grandparent. They might become unsettled and upset and start looking for their return.
When their normal routines or environments change as a result of the death of a loved one, they may pick up on this. They are also especially sensitive to the mood of their carers. If they do feel distressed, they might show it by being clingy or changing their eating or sleeping habits.
Toddlers might express their feelings through increased tantrums or restlessness (i.e. difficulties staying still). Or they might develop a fear of being alone or become more whiney or grizzly. It is possible that some may regress to a younger age, for example by losing their toilet training. They might also play out ‘loss related’ stories with their toys.
As well as the normal reactions mentioned above, pre-school aged children can sometimes think of a death as their fault. Also, they may not yet understand that death is permanent (for example, they may think the person will return). They might also think of death as something that would happen to others, but not to their family.
It is important to reassure them that they are not responsible and that adults will keep them safe.
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