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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 or young person 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 into our world and our frame of reference.

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 his or her 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 be sad and helping them make their own sense of the loss.

Answer any questions the child may have as truthfully as you can. 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 to 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.

Listen, listen and listen.

How long does it last?

Grief has no timeline. Don’t ever tell anyone, “You should be over it by now.” Help them to take every day as it comes and help to show them how to make it count.

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.
Use a simple workbook such as “When Someone Very Special Dies” by Marge Heegard. This can easily be adapted for various ability levels.
Looking at photographs or watching videos of the person who has died can facilitate expressions of sadness or anger.

Services available?

There are a range of services that can help, see local and national services below. If a child or young person has been bereaved, they should speak to someone they trust about how they are feeling, a parent, sibling or friend. They could also speak to their school nurse or GP.

Local Services

School Nurse

Local GP surgeries


Winston’s Wish: Bereavement support for schools

Winston’s Wish Freephone Helpline: 08088 020 021

Jen’s Place – A local support group for bereaved children and families running in Scunthorpe

Cruse Bereavement Care – Cruse offer support, advice and information to children, young people and adults. The service is free of charge and they support anyone who has been bereaved wherever or however the death has occurred. They offer one-to-one support in your home or if you prefer, at an outside venue. They also offer group support.

National Helpline 0808 808 1677. Local Helpline 07488 253 640.

National Services

Child Bereavement – Supporting children after death – Child Bereavement UK supports families and educates professionals when a baby or child dies or is dying, or when a child is facing bereavement.
Childhood Bereavement Network – The Childhood Bereavement Network (CBN) is the hub for those working with bereaved children, young people and their families across the UK.
Counselling Directory – The Counselling Directory is an online resource which can help you locate a counselor in your area.

Resources for SEN children taken from Child Bereavement
There is little around for SEN children and it is often a case of adapting mainstream resources. The following books are particularly appropriate.

  • When Someone Very Special Dies  by Marge Heegard. A simple non directive workbook. Cost £7.99
  • When Uncle Bob Died by Althea. A simple explanation of death with drawings of a funeral. Cost £5.99
  • Beginnings and Endings With Lifetimes In Between by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen. A beautifully illustrated book depicting the life cycle with 3 generations. Cost £5.99
  • Let’s talk about DEATH a booklet about death and funerals for young people with a learning disability. Photographs support the text. Published by Scottish Down`s Syndrome Association Tel: 0131 313 4225