Cranbridge International School, Kuala Lumpur
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Odyssey, The Global Preschool (Mont Kiara)
Small Wonder Malaysia
British Montessori, Ampang

Where Did Grandpa Go?

by on 25/07/2013 4288

Whether it was grandparents, parents, siblings, friends or even their pets, accepting the death of a loved one can be difficult on child. Since death is inevitable, we should help him to learn how to cope with his hard feeling when he experiences death.

Naturally, a sudden death can be harder on a child compared to an anticipated death. Losing someone unexpectedly may leave him confused and may even cause personality change in him. An anticipated death can be the death as a result of long-term illness. In such cases, he has time to think about the impending loss and how he will react to it.

The grief level too depends on how close the child was to the departed. For example, the death of a parent can be more stressful than that of someone who was not so close to him, to say the death of a distanced uncle.


Different Children Reacts Differently

First, we need to access how a child reacts to death. Each child is unique and so is his reaction to death. Some grieving reactions include:

  • Regression – the child may display regressive behaviour like wetting his bed even though he was potty trained. He may start throwing tantrums or experience separation anxiety.
  • Storing Grief – this happens when the child withheld all emotions during the time of death and then it manifests differently at later developmental stage. For instance, he may tend to draw disturbing pictures a couple of years after the death.
  • Being Difficult – child can go through various emotions like being sad, angry, helpless, scared and stressed. He can turn to behaving badly when he is not able to comprehend the emotion roller coaster that he is experiencing.
  • Guilty – this can happen to the child whose sibling or close friend died. This is called survival guilt. They may be asking why their sibling or friend had to die and why they didn’t. 

How to Help Your Child to Deal With The Loss?

Allow them to ask questions.

“Where did grandpa go?” “Did he suffer?” “Will I die too?” These are all the questions that child may ask. In order to help him understand what happened, we should not avoid his questions, even though it can be quite painful.

If child does not get a satisfactory answer, he will come up with his own interpretations. This may not be emotionally healthy for the children.

Talk about death.

Like many other Asian countries, Malaysian children were brought up in an environment where emotions were seldom displayed, especially grief. But fortunately, things are changing in recent years where parents are more open to talk to their children about previously “taboo” issues like death.

Be frank to your child about death. More importantly, don’t lie. Avoid saying things like “Grandma is sleeping now” or “Uncle had to go away for a long time and we won’t be able to see him for a long time”.

By avoiding or lying about the death, you’ll only confuse and hurt your child instead of protecting them. Do encourage them to share with you their feelings. It’ll help them come to terms with grief and be more open to seek help if they are hurt in future.

Don’t ignore child’s fears and concerns.

Pre-schoolers are usually able to comprehend life and death. However, they could also have incorrect interpretations at the same time. For example, if they had an aunt who died of heart attack while swimming, they might associate both things together and wrongly deduce that swimming is dangerous.

Instead of brushing it away and putting an end to the conversation, find out why they think that way. Gently explain that death can happen anywhere and that it is alright to experience fear and frustration. Encourage them to look on the bright side and make it a positive experience for them.


Having said all the above, I do understand that many a times, adults are also grieving the same loss. The adults are probably also experiencing the same feeling as the child. Thus, it makes helping children to deal with the loss all the more challenging. But this does not mean that you should mask your emotions and pretend that everything is all right. Be honest and open about your own feelings and it will help your child realize that it’s alright to grieve.