Bereavement and Loss
Children's understanding of death at different ages
Because we don’t experience it often, death can be shocking and confusing. This resource is for parents to help a child when they lose someone. Here are some useful pointers from the Young Minds website.
- Be open and honest with your child. Explain, age-appropriately and using clear language, why the person died. We can find it difficult to say the words and have a tendency to use softer expressions such as ‘gone away’ or ‘gone to sleep’. These expressions can be confusing for young children as they may believe loved ones will come back.
- Answer all the difficult questions about death and loss even though it is likely to be painful and uncomfortable. It’s okay to not have all of the answers, feel comfortable in saying you don’t know. Be prepared for your child to continuously ask the same questions. Going over it again can help them to process their loss and gain reassurance.
- Listen to how your child is feeling. If they blame themselves, reassure them that it’s not their fault.
- Reassure your child that you’re always there for them, as they might be worried about being alone or feel abandoned.
- Don’t be afraid to express your own emotions. By showing grief you are encouraging your child to express theirs too. Spend as much time as possible helping your child to show their feelings openly – their sadness, anger and anxiety will come out over time and at unexpected times.
- Sometimes they ‘forget’ and believe the person is still alive. This is normal in the first few weeks but can be a problem if it persists. If the problem persists – seek counselling support.
- Prepare your child for the changes they may face. The death of a loved one can have a huge impact on the family’s routine and structure. Ease any worries such as who will pick them up from school.
- Talk to your child about how they want to say goodbye. Some alternatives could be lighting a candle, letting off balloons, saying a prayer or poem, writing a letter, making a memory box, planting a shrub, visiting the grave or another special place.
- Help them make a memory box of photos, films, drawings, some clothing, favourite perfume/aftershave and other significant items. This can be a huge source of comfort. Macmillan Cancer Support offers help with this.
- Acknowledge upcoming anniversaries and share ideas with your child about how you can commemorate these.
- Take care of yourself. Allow yourself time and space to grieve for your own loss. The more you look after yourself, the better able you will be to support your child
- Give your child choice. There is no “best” or “right” time to access support for young people who experience bereavement. You can make your child aware of the different support options that they can access and ask them what they would like to engage with. It is also important to reassure them that they can access support in their own time
- Don’t feel that you are on your own. There are lots of organisations that can provide support to families who have experienced a bereavement.
Supporting younger children or children with autism spectrum disorder
Talking with your child about death or lossStarting a conversation about death or loss
Young Minds web resourcesInformation for parents and young people experiencing bereavement, grief and loss.
Support and counselling
Cruse Bereavement CareSupport, advice and information to children, young people and adults when someone dies
Daisy's DreamSupport for children and families affected by life threatening illness or bereavement
Every situation is different and our reactions are unique to us – we all need different types of support. The link below will take you to a list of other organisations who you may find helpful: