Bereavement support for children and young people
The death of a significant person during a child’s early years can be a devastating experience, but it need not be a damaging one.
As adults, we can help children by giving them the time they need to help them to find their own way.
In the weeks, months and years after a death, children whose feelings and thoughts are recognised and treated with respect and sensitivity will be encouraged and supported in their mourning.
When someone special dies, how we feel about the security of the world can be shaken. ‘If this person can be taken from us, then how sure can we be of anything else?’
This is a reasonable response to what is an unreasonable event, and is one of the earliest reactions of children experiencing a bereavement.
Following a bereavement any child’s ability to rely upon the certainty of anything or anyone will be shaken, therefore being away from people and places which are important may raise anxiety in children about the safety of their world.
As far as it is possible, keep your child in touch with the people, places and belongings they know, as well as their familiar routines.
It can sometimes be hard for young children to talk about what is going on inside them. Let them ask questions and try to answer them honestly.
You might find it useful to practice different ways of saying things first with another member of your family or a friend. Avoid long explanations which your child may not understand and may give them mistaken ideas. It is OK to say “I don’t know”.
You may notice changes in your child’s behaviours. It is not unusual, for example, for children to become clingy and find separation from other important people difficult. Sometimes, too, they may develop a fear that others will die and leave them. Some children may have difficulty sleeping or become frightened of the dark. These things, and others, are all normal.
Try to offer your child reassurance and make sure, if you can, to take any opportunities to take a break yourself.
Some points that may be helpful:
- Children need to know they will be cared for and will be safe.
- Children need to know that they did not cause the death.
- Children need very clear information about the death.
- Children need to feel important, involved and prepared.
- Children need continued routine and activity.
- Children need somebody who will listen closely to them.
- Children need some way to remember the person who died.