When someone close to us dies or is very ill, we may feel all kinds of emotions which we express in different ways at different times. Children and young people, like adults, need to grieve in their own way with the help and support of those around them. Many adults say they feel overwhelmed by their own reactions to bereavement. It is like this for children too and they can become frightened by what is happening to them.
It can be very difficult to know what to say to children and to young people and to know how to help them, especially if we are grieving ourselves as we can’t prevent children and young people from feeling the pain, anger and hurt of someone close to them dying. However, there are some things we can do to help:
Tell your child what is happening or has happened in a way they can understand using simple, clear, factual and truthful language.
Answer your child’s questions truthfully and honestly involve and include your child
Give your child time and space to ask any questions, and to express their feelings and discuss memories Inform your child’s school about what is happening or has happened.
Recognise that their grief can feel confusing and frightening for them and they may need more reassurance about many things and want to stay close to family members.
Reassure your child that they are not to blame for what has happened.
Like adults, children and young people need the love, support and understanding of those around them. They can and do survive the pain and hurt of somebody close to them dying. They need to know that it is normal to feel as they do and that it is also OK to have fun.
Like adults, children and young people need:
Reassurance that they are not to blame for what has happened.
To know that they will be cared for.
To be involved in major decisions about the deceased
To be able to tell their story
To be encouraged to remember the person who died and express these memories.
To be given permission to have fun with their friends, if that is what they want to do.
To be able to get the support that is right for them, not just immediately after the death but throughout childhood.
Like adults, children and young people are different; however, they may:
Express their grief in what they do rather than what they say.
Have difficulty concentrating in class and their behaviour might change at school.
Appear “naughty” or “withdrawn”.
Experience difficulty eating or sleeping.
Deny their grief and put all their energy into their school work.
A child or young person’s grief differs from that of an adult’s grief because it alters as they develop and face new situations in life.
Children and young people do not have the emotional capacity to focus on their grief for long periods of time and therefore it is not uncommon for grieving children and young people to become distracted by play. This is a way that the child copes with the intensity of grief.
Sometimes, for a number of different reasons, a child or young person might benefit from some bereavement support like that offered by STARS. This may be because:
You have continued concerns about changes in your child’s eating and sleeping patterns, or marked and continued changes in behaviour at home or at school.
If the young person requests it If you feel unable to adequately support your child or young person because of other circumstances or the nature of your grief.
It has been recommended by a professional working with your child or young person.
Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to support children and young people at a time when as adults we are facing our own grief. If we can recognise our own needs and find help and support for ourselves we will be better able to support our children and young people. If you feel that this is appropriate for you please contact you GP or Cruse Bereavement Services. If you do not have it already please ask for a copy of Stars leaflet ’What is happening to me? Information for Adults who are grieving’.