What is Grief? Grief is our response to loss. When we lose someone we love - a partner, a parent, a taitamaiti (child), relative, friend or a much-loved pet – we grieve.
A child's understanding of death and loss depends on their age.
Giving your taitamaiti 'age appropriate' information, communicated in a way that they can relate to, will help them gain some understanding of death, dying, and grief. If there is serious illness within the whānau, keeping your tamariki informed is a continual process.
Conversations with your tamariki about death, dying, illness and loss are ongoing because they will keep asking questions and sometimes ask the same question more than once. A child's understanding of a situation may change over time because their ability to make sense of something will change with their development age and stage. Unlike adults they can't always remember what happened and may need repeated explanations and conversations to make sense of it.
Ongoing clinical research suggests that providing tamariki with age appropriate support during times of grief and loss can improve their understanding of death and dying and avoid emotional problems later in life.
0-2 years respond more to the distress of the caregiver rather than to the person who has died or is seriously ill.
2-5 years cannot find the language to talk about death and loss. Responses manifest as actions.
5-8 years have a better grasp of death but do not fully understand the concept, still believing that the person who has died will come back, or that the person who is seriously ill will get better.
10+ years, the 'teenage years' where tamariki and mātātahi (young people) are egocentric. Although they will understand death and serious illness, they may resent having to do more to help out or dislike the feeling of being 'uncool' if a parent has cancer or has died.