Skip to content

Advice for speaking with children and adolescents about death

Advice for speaking with children and adolescents about death

Taken from the National Association of School Psychologists (



✔️ Avoid euphemisms as preschoolers have trouble understanding death and may believe the death is reversible.

✔️ Provide opportunities to express thoughts and feelings about death through play activities and drawing.

✔️Answer questions using concrete descriptions and be prepared to repeatedly answer questions.


✖️ Possible reactions include :

  • Crying or screaming
  • Clinging to caregivers or other trusted adults
  • Fear of separation
  • Regressive behaviors such as wetting pants and thumb sucking
  • Decreased verbalization


Elementary School

✔️ These children may ask questions and seek to try to understand what happened. Be patient and refer them to adults who can answer their questions.

✔️Children below the age of eight may engage in magical thinking and believe they could have prevented the death. Recognize these feelings and fears but do not validate them.

✔️Children ages nine through twelve may feel less comfortable showing feelings and seeing expressions of grief in others. Make sure to provide these children with a variety of ways to express grief.


✖️ Possible reactions include :

  • Behavioral difficulties
  • Decreased concentration
  • Poor school performance
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Withdrawal
  • Somatic complaints (headaches & stomachaches)


Middle and High School

✔️Do not force adolescents to share their feelings with others, including their peers if they do not feel comfortable. Provide them with opportunities to share their feelings privately.

✔️Adolescents often seek support via social media. Be aware of what is being posted and shared.

✔️Encourage adolescents to seek support for a friend in need.

✔️ Adolescents in their mid-to-late teens tend to feel more comfortable expressing their feelings and grief similar to adults.

✔️ High school students may use physical contact to show their support and empathy for each other (e.g., hugging or touching the arm)

✖️ Possible reactions include :

  • Poor school performance
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • High risk behaviors or substance use
  • Emotional numbing
  • Suicidal thoughts