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Developmental Responses to Death

Developmental Responses to Death
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Birth – 18 Months:

  • Disturbed sleeping patterns.
  • Eating changes.
  • Clinging to the caretaker.
  • Lethargy

18 Months - 2 Years:

  • Fears losing primary caretaker’s love.
  • Can’t cope well with multiple changes.
  • Keenly aware of non-verbal responses.
  • Begin to realize they are missing someone in their family.
  • Unable to verbalize feelings; therefore, they act them out in misbehavior.
  • May regress to previous behaviors – bedwetting, thumb sucking, etc...
  • Clingy – demands for affection and approval.
  • Daily asking for person who is not present.

3 - 6 Years:

  • Death is understood as temporary.
  • Child will act out feelings or act as if nothing has changed.
  • Blames self; views death as being punished for being naughty.
  • Maintains fantasies of their loved ones return.
  • Fears abandonment.
  • May be irritable and/or show aggression.

7 -  10 Years:

  • Child can become preoccupied with death.
  • Prevailing sadness increased crying, or withdrawal.
  • Fear of the future; concerns about money, food, shelter, etc...
  • Self-conscious about the family being different.
  • Conflict with friends.

11 - 13 Years:

  • Child begins to understand the concept of death.
  • Child begins to believe that death is irreversible.
  • Anger can be covering emotional pain.
  • May withdraw from friends and activities; indifference.
  • May feel shame that their family is different or changed.
  • Busy themselves with activities and friends seeking approval.
  • May suffer a loss of identity; low self-esteem.

14 - 20 Years:

  • Overwhelmed with additional responsibility.
  • Frequent mood swings.
  • Outward denial of inner turmoil.
  • Dependent/independent conflicts.
  • Needs peer approval; prefers friends over family.
  • Wants to compensate feelings of loss with more “things”.
  • Fears parental illness.
  • Tests limits.
  • Sensitive to family tensions.