Supporting Bereaved Children
Although it is not something we like to talk about, a child is bereaved of a parent every 22 minutes in the UK. It happens more than you might think, and that will be especially true during this pandemic.
As parents there are some conversations we can dread having with our kids as they grow up – from the constant “why?” questions to the science homework questions to which we don’t know the answer to.
One of the conversations we probably don’t ever think of having is the one where we explain to our child that someone they are close to has died, especially if that person is a parent, a sibling or much loved grandparent.
Pete English leads the ListeningPeople Project for AtaLoss.org which specialises in training anyone who engages with bereaved young people. With over 25 years’ experience Pete knows how bereavement affects children and young people. He says,
Children grieve very differently to us adults – for us it can feel like we’re in the sea with waves of grief constantly crashing around us, for children it’s often like jumping in and out of puddles. They can be inconsolable one minute and running off to play the next; incredibly angry to laughing and joking in an instant. It’s unpredictable and can be difficult to understand.
As they process their loss, out come the questions – often asked at the most inopportune moments. Pete says,
We might think we are protecting our children and young people by not explaining or avoiding talking about death. But it is incredibly important for them to know they can ask about the subject and trust the adults around them. It is the only way to avoid confusion and unprocessed grief building up in their young lives.
Teenagers may find it difficult to talk about their feelings or ask for help. They may seek and find support through social media, their behaviour may change, they could become withdrawn or feel angry and get involved in anti-social behaviour.
So how do we support our children and young people so that they cope with their grief in a healthy way?
Be honest with your child. Avoid confusion and teach our kids they can trust the adults around them to tell the truth.
Use the right words. It can feel harsh using words like ‘dead’ and ‘died’, but terms like ‘passed away’ or ‘gone to sleep’ can cause fear and anxiety to children.
Understand your bereaved teenage child isn’t being difficult. Unlike younger children, young people understand that death is permanent, and even though they may be unable to share their feelings, they will suffer similar feelings of loss and grief to an adult. Include them in the conversation, give them information and the choice to be involved when someone close has died.
Be kind to yourself. There are no ‘rules’ when it comes to grief, but it’s exhausting being bereaved yourself and supporting a bereaved child!
With this support, children will experience their grief with a new level of understanding as they get older and reach a new stage of maturity and emotional intelligence beyond their years - something positive that can emerge from all the sadness.
Where to go for help:
Go to www.ataloss.org to search for information and support for you or your child - whether that be specific to your loss, or maybe just to meet others in a similar situation. We have over 900 organisations listed and a library of helpful resources and books for bereaved children.
To help a young person cope with a funeral we have a really helpful film you can watch together. CLICK HERE
Pete English’s ‘Tough Stuff Journal: Someone has died’ is a fantastic resource for parents to work through with a bereaved child. To read more and buy a copy CLICK HERE
By Jane Woodward, who is the Executive Director of At A Loss.org