Supporting a bereaved child or young person.
A guide for parents and carers
Whether sudden or expected, few life events have a greater impact on families than the death of a family member. The ways in which families make sense of, and cope with their grief vary greatly. Everyone’s bereavement journey will be unique. But grief is normal – and necessary – and needs to be expressed.
Although supporting a bereaved child can seem daunting, there are simple, straightforward and practical ways, which can make a real difference.
With support and information, young people can be helped to understand what has happened and can slowly learn to live with their loss.
For parents and carers
At a time when you are experiencing your own grief at the death of a partner, child, other family member or friend, it can seem overwhelming to offer support to your child or children.
Within these pages we hope to give you some information and some guidance on the responses and needs of children and young people when someone important in their life has died.
Some important reminders
- Remember that ‘super parents’ don’t exist. Just do what you can, when you can. Be gentle on yourself.
- There is more than one way to support your children. Choose the things that you feel most comfortable with.
- Accept that some things just can’t be ‘made better’ in a short space of time.
- Talk to children using words they understand and ask questions to check they have understood you.
- Give information a bit at a time if your children are younger. Pieces of the ‘jigsaw puzzle’ can be put together over time to make the complete picture.
- Show children how you are feeling: it helps them to know that it’s OK to show their feelings too
- Encourage children to ask questions and keep answering them – even if it’s for the 100th time.
- Answer questions honestly and simply; and be willing to say ‘I don’t know’.
- Try to find ways in which children can be involved.
- Keep talking about the person who has died.
- Trust yourself and your instincts – you haven’t forgotten how to parent your child.
- Look after yourself too.
Children and grief
Children’s experience of a death in the family, and their reactions to it, may be different from yours as an adult. Try not to assume you know what they are feeling – ask them what they are feeling and accept what they tell you.
Initial reactions may range from great distress to what may seem to be unconcern. They may find it impossible to speak, they may be unable to stop crying or they may ask: ‘Can I ride my bike now?’ All of these – and more – are normal reactions and do not mean that the child is uncaring or reacting excessively.
Younger children experience grief differently to adults. Adults could be said to wade with difficulty through rivers of grief, and may become stuck in the middle of a wide sea of grieving. For children, their grieving can seem more like leaping in and out of puddles. One minute, they may be sobbing, the next they are asking: ‘What’s for tea?’ It does not mean they care any the less about what has happened.