Paul bereavement blog

How do I support a grieving child?

17/10/2017

Place2Be Service Manager Paul talks about how children experience bereavement and what adults in their lives can do to support them.

Supporting a child who is bereaved or about to be bereaved of a close family member can be a daunting prospect for even the most confident or experienced professional. Bereavement affects us all very differently and we carry our own experiences of the death of a loved one with us wherever we go, so it’s easy to be transported back to those feelings when faced with another’s grief. However, whether we’re teachers or therapists, we can all make a difference. Here are five things to keep in mind when supporting a child through bereavement.

1) Let children respond in their own way

After a bereavement, children and young people will process and express their emotions in a variety of ways. They may appear to go back to an earlier stage in their lives, either emotionally or developmentally, or withdraw, disconnect or act out their grief as they try to make sense of overwhelming feelings. Children mature at different rates too and their understanding of the situation will depend on their life experience as much as their age.

Sometimes, children may benefit from one-to-one counselling or another kind of professional support, but it’s important for the adults in their lives to think carefully about their needs before getting to that point. Moreover, often just being there for a young person through their storm of emotions and listening attentively and non-judgementally is helpful.

2) Keep up routines

School, clubs and other familiar places will sometimes be a safe refuge from the chaos and disruption that a serious illness or bereavement can cause at home. Both illness and funerary arrangements can attract numerous visitors whether they are friends, family or professionals. Continued routines at school and a place of ‘normality’ can be reassuring, while the prospect of school holidays can be scary. Likewise if changes in personal circumstances force a family to move home or school, children can lose more than just their relative.  

3) Acknowledge their feelings

Following a sudden or expected death a child or young person will need respect and acknowledgement of their feelings. Adults may understandably want to protect a child from distress or shield them from the reality of the death. But while reassurance is absolutely important, especially as some children may feel at fault or guilty about the loss, withholding information can just lead to further questions or a lack of trust of the adults around them. Not all children will want to talk about it, but some may have questions and it is important to give that space to talk about things. Rather than stopping themselves from responding to the loss around the child, grown-ups can show that it’s okay to grieve.

4) Involve them 

Children and young people need to receive information about what has happened and what will happen next. It’s OK to say that you don’t know and it’s important to be honest and to foster trust. The information may need to be broken down into understandable language or in bite-size pieces and will likely need to be repeated. It’s important, too, that the correct language is used and euphemisms are avoided.

Being involved in the funeral arrangement is a useful way to include a child.  It may help to describe what a funeral is and what can be expected. Funerals are often incredibly emotional experiences for adults and children alike, so family members may need to consider a funeral plan to manage children at a funeral if their own emotions are too overwhelming. Nevertheless, all family members, no matter how young, should have an opportunity to be included in some way.

5) Look after yourself too

Supporting a bereaved child may take you on a journey which brings up powerful feelings of your own. Remember to look after yourself and seek support, advice or guidance from colleagues if you need it.

 

For further information, advice and support, please visit the websites of the child bereavement charities Winston’s WishChild Bereavement UK and Childhood Bereavement Network.

This blog was written in a personal capacity and does not necessarily reflect the view of the organisation.

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