I religiously follow This American Life and a recent episode is particularly pertinent to this blog. “Birds & Bees” is about topics that are difficult to discuss with kids, and Act 3 specifically addresses death and grief for children. An excerpt:
“[The therapist] says children just grieve differently than adults, especially little children. They grieve in fits and starts. They can’t focus on it for very long. And grief is more physical for them.
They’ll act out their anger, maybe kick a door, which is the reason for the volcano room at The Sharing Place. They might also regress, suddenly using baby talk or sucking their thumbs. And if they’re potty trained, they might become untrained.
They’re also magical thinkers. I heard stories of kids who were afraid to go to sleep because grandma went to sleep and didn’t wake up. One little boy wandered away from his mom at the emergency room saying, ‘I’m looking for Dad. We left him here last time.’ Another boy said he just wanted to die for a few days so he can go to heaven and teach his little sister how to ride a tricycle.
Children also re-grieve. That is, with every new stage of development, they experience their grief anew. And with every milestone– when their braces come off, when they get their driver’s license, when they graduate– they’ll inevitably think, I wish my mom was here.”