Bereavement refers to the whole process of grieving and mourning following the death of someone in your life, and is associated with a deep sense of grief and sadness. It is a natural process, but its impact can be overwhelming.
Many children and young people will experience the death of a family member, friend or pet. An estimate suggests that more than 100 children are bereaved of a parent every day in the UK (Winston's Wish).
All children and young people will grieve when someone dies. It is important to remember that each child and young person’s reaction will be different and may change over time. Grief doesn’t follow a set pattern of responses, and reactions will depend on many things including:
The reactions of children and young people to a death may cause a great deal of concern, and some families feel they should get extra help immediately. However, with the right support from the people around them, most children and young people will be able to cope and adapt to the changes.
Children and young people may experience a wide range of reactions in response to death, which are all natural and normal, including:
Some reactions to death may appear contradictory, e.g. they may be upset one minute and then ask if they can go outside to play the next. This is normal and doesn’t mean that they don’t care or aren’t grieving. Remember that some children and young people may cry, whereas others may not.
A child or young person’s reactions to death are likely to be different depending on the circumstances. For example:
Children and young people may want to get support from someone not directly affected by the bereavement, e.g. if their dad has died, they may talk to their teacher if they’re worried they’ll upset their mum.
Bereaved children and young people may also experience difficulties with their peers, e.g. they may be teased or asked difficult questions. Or, their peers may be worried about upsetting them or not knowing what to say to them.
When someone dies, families will have their own views about whether they want children and young people to be involved in the formalities, e.g. funeral, viewing the body. Formalities may help the child or young person to: accept the death, say goodbye, not be scared, feel included or share memories. Where appropriate, children and young people should be given information about the formalities, and supported in making decisions about their own involvement. It is important that they are not forced to do anything they are uncomfortable with.
Supporting a bereaved child or young person can be difficult, exhausting and overwhelming. Your experiences of how you or others have coped with bereavement may affect your response. To best support the child or young person, it is important to respond to them and their unique situation. If you are grieving yourself, make sure you also talk to someone if you need support.
Remember that with the right support from the people around them, most children and young people will be able to cope with bereavement. However you might also want to consider extra help or support:
Bereavement leaflet from Understanding Childhood: www.understandingchildhood.net/posts/bereavement-helping-parents-and-children-cope-when-someone-close-to-them-dies
Child Bereavement UK, self-help website with helpline and app for young people: www.childbereavementuk.org
Childhood Bereavement Network, self-help website: www.childhoodbereavementnetwork.org.uk
Cruse, direct support for bereaved children and young people: 0845 600 2227 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Hope Again, self-help website with helpline: www.hopeagain.org.uk
Winston’s Wish UK, self-help website with helpline: www.winstonswish.org.uk
Please contact your health visitor, school, GP or other professional involved with your family.
Please consult with other professionals involved or the named person, and to help identify the most appropriate support, go to: www.nhsfife.org/choosingtherightsupport