When children and young people are grieving it can be so hard to know what to say or do.

Our Counselling and Sibling Support teams have many years of experience in providing support and understanding at the most difficult of times to young people and their families.

To mark Children’s Grief Awareness Week, we asked Counselling Team Leader Judy and Sibling Support Worker Ceinwen to share their advice on helping grieving young people of all ages.

We hope you find it helpful.

 

How should you tell a child or young person that a loved one has died?

Judy: Be honest about what has happened and talk calmly using language they will understand. Children are sometimes the ‘forgotten mourners’. Quite often they are excluded from conversations about the person who has died because adults want to protect them from further hurt or feel that they are too young to understand. In reality, children have the same range and intensity of emotions as adults but they find it more difficult to express their feelings verbally and to make sense of what has happened.

How might they feel?

Judy: They may feel sad or lonely and find it difficult to eat or sleep or concentrate. They might be angry, which can cause problems at school or home, or may appear to become the ‘perfect child’. They may also become clingy because they are worried that someone else in their family might die.

Does it help to talk about the person who has died?

Ceinwen: Always. The loved one who has died was part of their lives and will continue to be so.

Judy: Children will often follow the lead of adults around them and if they see adults not talking about a loved one they can copy this. It is important for children to be able to talk about the loved one, recount memories and ask questions about why they died. It is a natural part of their grieving process and enables them to make sense of their loss.

Should we let children see we are upset?

Judy: It’s important to show them that it’s normal to cry when remembering a person who meant so much to you. They may think it’s their fault you are sad, so let them know that they didn’t make you cry – you are crying because you miss that special person. In the same way let them know it’s OK if they cry, and OK if they don’t cry. Everyone will experience and express grief in their own way.

On the flip side, it is OK to be happy again after someone has died?

Judy: Children, especially young children, experience a range of emotions following the death of someone close. They often ‘puddle jump’ from one feeling to another. They can feel grief one moment and want to play the next. This is completely normal.

Laughing and having fun are part life of life but, on occasions, those who are grieving can be concerned by ‘what others might think’. Embracing natural expression, whether that is laughter or tears is real and honest.

Should children and young people be involved in funerals?

Ceinwen: Yes if they want too. You need to keep them informed about what is happening and what is going to happen so that they can make their own choices.

Judy: Children need the opportunity to say goodbye. Funerals are important to people of all ages because they help us to acknowledge that someone has died, help us to start to grieving and to mark the death in keeping with our own philosophy or religion.

Are there things we can do together to keep memories alive?

Ceinwen: Remembering and celebrating birthdays and anniversaries is important, as is talking about the person who has died. Making memory boxes can keep a connection with them. We have one young sibling who likes to go and see the room where her sister stayed at Ty Gobaith when she visits. It’s a connection for her that has good memories. 

I’m scared that I might say the wrong thing! What should I say?

Ceinwen: You cannot upset them more than they already are because the worst has already happened. Ask them how they are doing and acknowledge their loss.

Judy: Saying anything to a grieving child or young person is far better than ignoring them. Check out their understanding about the death of their loved one and maybe death in general. Use this as a guide and language they understand. Remember grief is normal at any age – Grief is the price we pay for love.

What is the most important piece of advice you could give to someone supporting a bereaved child or young person?

Judy: Just remember you do not need to ‘do’ anything. You cannot solve their grief or loss. Provide a safe space for them to talk if they want to, but also respect that they might not want to talk. Let them know you are there when they feel ready.

Ceinwen: Be guided by the child and give honest answers to their questions.

The final word goes to our Counsellor Scott who experienced childhood bereavement first hand.

When my Dad died, I was 16, and I was in the middle of GCSE’s. I did not know how to feel or process what was happening. I needed time and a safe space to feed back into when I was ready. Any pushing to talk made me withdraw further into myself.

 

Hope House Children’s Hospices offers counselling and bereavement support to children and families living in Shropshire, Cheshire, Mid and North Wales who have been affected by the death of a baby, child or young person up to the age of 25 years when they died. Our service is free and confidential. For more information please email [email protected].

Judy and Ceinwen also recommend these useful books:

What’s Dead Mean? by Doris Zagdanski

Muddles, Puddles and Sunshine by Diana Crossley

All kinds of Feelings by Emma Brownjohn

Galar a Fi.Profiadau ingol o fyw gyda galar gan Esyllt Maelor

The Huge Bag of Worries by Virginia Ironside

Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley

Other help and advice is available from:

www.winstonswish.org.uk

www.childhoodbereavementnetwork.org.uk