What can you expect your child's response to be to the death of someone in her life?
Death of a Pet
If a child is attached to her pet, she may find its death quite difficult. Even so, this event will prepare her for later encounters with death by giving her some understanding of the experience.
Death of a Grandparent
When a grandparent dies, children may not find it as devastating as the loss of a parent or a sibling. To them, their grandparent is an older person, and when people get old, they often die. However, if the grandparent has provided day-to-day companionship for the child, perhaps even living with the family or residing nearby, the death will be much harder.
Also, with the passing away of a grandparent, children often think, "Now that my daddy's daddy is dead, does that mean that my daddy is going to die next?" If you sense this kind of reaction, reassure your child that you and your spouse are healthy and will probably live for a long time.
Death of a Parent
Whenever a child loses a parent, the event is traumatic and alters the course of her development. You cannot protect the child from what has happened, but you can help her face the reality of it.
If you are a surviving parent, in addition to dealing with your own feelings of loss, you need to help your child through this experience. Expect reactions ranging from regression and anxiety to anger and depression.
Be honest and open about what has taken place. Provide your child with a lot of comforting, both verbal and nonverbal. Reassure her that you are not going to leave her, too, and that life will get back into a routine as soon as possible.
If the primary caretaker (usually the mother) has died, and the father must return to work, he should find someone to assume a care-taking, nurturing role for a while—perhaps a relative or a nanny. Even so, while these substitutes can assist with day-to-day functions, the surviving parent will still need to spend more time with and give more attention to his child to help her adjust to their new life.
Death of a Sibling
When a brother or a sister dies, children can find it just as difficult as losing a parent, sometimes even more so. In some ways a sibling is the person to whom a child is closest. They have been constant companions, sharing many life experiences. Perhaps they even shared a bedroom.
When a sibling dies, children may feel guilty, particularly since at some point nearly every youngster wishes that her sibling were dead. Or they may have survival guilt ("Why did he die and I didn't?"). They may even feel guilty because of the jealousy they experienced if their sibling was ill and got extra parental attention.
If one of your children dies, do not ignore the others during the grieving process. Even though you may be overwhelmed with your own sadness, your other children need a lot of attention, comforting, and understanding. Mobilize other extended-family members and friends to help give your children support. Try to avoid putting the deceased child on a pedestal, or your other children may feel they can never be as perfect or as good in your eyes.