The death of a loved one is a huge life event. The feelings of loss, grief, uncertainty, and sadness can feel overwhelming whatever your age. Our Child Bereavement Service have put together some advice to help you support a child or young person dealing with a bereavement.
1. Talk to your child
Children and young people may feel the loss more strongly and might worry about your physical wellbeing. It is not uncommon for children to become confused about death once they’ve experienced loss for the first time. Parents and other adults need to help them understand the concept of death and this is best done by giving your child clear, age-appropriate information on a frequent basis. Read more about talking to children about grief.
2. Keep them moving and get fresh air
Try to ensure your child gets outside regularly. Spending time in the fresh air of a garden or park, or by taking a walk can be a mood booster. If you can’t get out, try moving at home by dancing to a favourite song or doing a child-friendly exercise class on YouTube if you can access it. These can help your wellbeing and decrease stress and anxiety. However, if the bereavement has also affected you make sure you look after yourself and rest if you need to. Don’t feel guilty if you are also struggling.
3. Remember your loved one
Grieving can be difficult but talking about and remembering a loved one can help you cope. Some psychologists have moved away from the idea of ‘letting go’ of the deceased, and there is now a recognition of the importance of what is called ‘continuing bonds’.
This means that for some people, specifically those where the relationship was a good and emotionally stable one, keeping a connection with the deceased becomes a healthy part of life after loss. Things like talking to them (out loud or in your head), writing them letters, keeping photos of them around, telling new people in your life about them can play a part in a healthy life after losing someone. This all happens in a way that doesn’t stop the person from loving again and being able to live their lives happily. This can also be beneficial for children who might not have been able to get to know a family member who has died.
Creating a grief self-care kit can be a good way to start and continue these conversations. If you’re a parent, grandparent, or carer to a child who has experienced the death of a loved one you could make one together. This is a box that’s packed with objects that ground your child and help them feel calm. Read more about making a grief self-care kit.
4. Stay connected to other people
Ensuring that grief doesn’t isolate us is important. Even though you might just want to curl up under a duvet and ignore the world try to ensure your child, and you, stay connected to other people. If you can, set up playdates at home or in a park. You could try a phone or video call where you can sit down with a hot drink together. Try to stay connected to your friends and family even if you only talk for a few minutes each day.
5. Talk to a professional
Speaking to friends and family helps a great deal, but sometimes it can be easier talking to a stranger, or someone impartial who can help you look at things in a different way.
For adults who want advice about a child or young person who has been bereaved, read our How to explain death to children and young people and help them cope leaflet. You could also encourage children to speak to a trusted adult at school. They may be able to refer you to others who can help.
Visit our Mental health and emotional wellbeing page for resources to help support a child with poor mental health.
If you are an adult who is struggling with grief, Cruse offers adults free bereavement support (opens in new window).
6. Reach out to others who might be struggling
Reaching out to friends and family that are also grieving can provide support for both of you. Dropping off some shopping, sending flowers or a note to let them know you’re thinking of them or phoning to talk about how you’re both feeling can be beneficial for everyone.
7. Be open and honest
Explaining a death to a child can be a difficult task, but our belief and experience is that a concerned adult can help a child manage their feelings of pain and loss. Parents and other adults need to help them understand the concept of death and this is best done by giving clear, age-appropriate, honest information on a frequent basis.
When explaining a death to a child it is important to try to use the word ‘dead’ or ‘death’ rather than phrases such as ‘gone to sleep’, ‘lost’’ or ’gone to a better place’. These phrases cause confusion for young children and can lead to unnecessary anxiety. Some children can become worried about what will happen to them when they go to sleep or if they see their parents fall asleep.
Young children need to be told repeatedly that when someone dies they can never come back. As an adult these questions may feel painful but they need their questions answered openly, honestly and simply. Read more about how to talk to your child about grief.