March 2023 Newsletter – Grief and Loss: Children’s Understanding of Loss and Grief

Children’s Understanding of Loss and Grief

There are a number of developmental milestones that factor into a child’s understanding of loss.

The first of which is the concept of object permanence, or the understanding that someone or something exists, even when the person or object is not present.  This understanding emerges in the first year of life.

Another factor that plays a role in children’s understanding of loss is the concept of time. Children do not experience time the same way adults do. Children may have difficulty grasping the fact that the death of a loved one is permanent.

Piaget used the term animism in his work to describe children’s tendency to assign human feelings and actions to inanimate objects. Children may ask questions about how their loved one will eat or watch television now that they are no longer living.

Young children often engage in magical thinking when faced with a loss. They may believe that if they do something, or act in a certain way, the person who has passed away will return.  The egocentric nature of young children could cause them to believe that they are the cause of the loss. For example, if they had been a “good boy” the person would still be with them.

As children develop into their school-age years, they reach new levels of understanding related to loss:

  • Irreversibility is the understanding that death is permanent and cannot be reversed.
  • Causality refers to the understanding of factors that caused the death of a loved one versus the egocentric belief that the child caused the death.
  • Nonfunctionality is the realization that a loved one who has passed away no longer drives a car or needs to eat lunch.
  • Universality is the understanding that everything alive will someday die.

These skills emerge as children move into more abstract ways of thinking.

A child’s prior experience with loss can also impact how they experience grief, as can their relationships and interactions with peers and family members.


For the main article Grief and Loss, CLICK HERE

For the article Experiencing Grief, CLICK HERE

For the article Strategies to Support Children Who Have Experienced Loss, CLICK HERE

For the article Helping Families and Colleagues through Grief, CLICK HERE