How Seven-to Eleven-Year-Old Children Cope with Grief
Children ages seven to eleven are still primarily oriented to the family, and although they've begun to relate to and gain self-identity through their peers, play is still a mode of self-expression. Children this age also express themselves quite well orally, especially the primary feelings of mad, glad, and sad.
They have begun to grasp more abstract concepts such as truth, time, space, and death, although magical thinking still plays a role. Most commonly, seven-or eight-year-olds become fearful of death because they realize for the first time it's real.
No matter who dies, they may feel devastated at the thought of losing a parent. Obviously, the death of a parent is extremely traumatic at this age. Some of their questions may indicate fears of their own death. Death is seen as an attacker who takes life.
Free expression of grief must be encouraged, and children must be told over and over that they didn't cause the death and that the dead person did not choose to die. A child of this age may also fear that death is a punishment for improper behavior. They may fear that their naughty behavior has brought about the death of a loved one, and they are being punished for it. They may also believe that they or another loved one will be the next to die.
A more adult concept of life and death develops roughly between the ages of nine and eleven. At this developmental level, the children have learned that only people, plants, and animals live and die. Children of this age are not only sensitive to their own feelings, but can now enter into the feelings of others.
As a result, they are more understanding of what the loss may mean to others, and they are able to show empathy. Children in the upper end of this range not only need support and comfort, but also can be a source of support and comfort for others. Opportunities to be helpful to others during the crisis can actually help children deal with their own feelings.