BEREAVEMENT

What is it?

Bereavement sometimes also referred to as grief, is a term used to describe the sense of loss felt when a loved one dies. This sense of loss may contain a host of emotions, such as sadness, anger, guilt or frustration and anxiety, and the period immediately following the death is often referred to as the mourning period.

What is a ‘typical’ reaction to loss?

The loss of someone close through death is a traumatic and painful event for the majority of people. For many children and young people, the death of a parent, sibling, friend or relative can be extremely difficult because of the child’s inability to understand and articulate their feelings. It’s typical to feel angry, guilty, fearful, worried, numb and many other emotions that might frighten or overwhelm them.

What might a child in your care grieve for?

A sense of loss is not attached to any one thing or person but more about the relationship they had with who or what they love or how an event challenges their belief and trust in their world.

Adults and children often cope with grief and loss differently and it may be important to try and enter their world and how they experience it, rather than to try and invite them to view the world the same way that we do.
The different kinds of losses can include a parent, friend, partner, pet, public figure, teacher, neighbour, global event or disaster.

How can I help them deal with loss?

Even very young children feel the pain of bereavement, but they learn how to express their grief by watching the adults around them. After a loss, particularly of a sibling or parent, children need support, stability, and honesty. They may also need extra reassurance that they will be cared for and kept safe. As an adult, you can support children through the grieving process by demonstrating that it’s okay to feel a range of emotions. Use very simple, honest, and concrete terms when explaining death to a child. Children, especially young children, may blame themselves for what happened and the truth helps them see they are not at fault.

Open communication will smooth the way for a child to express distressing feelings. Because children often express themselves through stories, games, and artwork, encourage this self-expression, and look for clues in those activities about how they are coping.

How can we deal with loss together?

You might not know exactly what to say or what to do, but that’s okay. You don’t need to have answers or give advice. The most important thing you can do is to simply be there; your support and caring presence will help them cope with the pain and begin to heal.

Younger children may be confused by some of the everyday expressions that people use when someone dies, such as describing the person as ‘lost’, ‘gone to sleep’ or ‘passed away’. It is best to keep language simple and direct. Saying that someone has ‘died’ or is ‘dead’ is honest, helps to avoid confusion, and encourages acceptance.

How long does it last?

Grief has no timeline. Don’t ever tell anyone, “You should be over it by now.”
Take every day as it comes and try to help them make it count. For many children, recovery after bereavement takes 18 to 24 months, but for others, the grieving process may be longer or shorter. Don’t pressure them to move on or make them feel like they’ve been grieving too long. This can actually slow the healing process.

What self-care and management tips can I give them?

You might be able to help children find ways to symbolise and memorialise the deceased person. Memory boxes can be a good way to do this.

Encourage your child’s usual daily routine if possible but be prepared to be flexible if they are finding it difficult at first.

Pay attention to the way your child plays; this can be one of a child’s primary ways of communicating.

Services available?

You might be able to help children find ways to symbolise and memorialise the deceased person. Memory boxes can be a good way to do this. Encourage your child’s usual daily routine if possible but be prepared to be flexible if they are finding it difficult at first. Pay attention to the way your child plays; this can be one of a child’s primary ways of communicating.

Cruse National Helpline: 0808 808 1677
Childhood Bereavement Network
Compassionate Friends Helpline: 0345 123 2304

If you feel your child needs more support you can also speak to your school nurse or GP.