Supporting your child when someone dies
- Help children grieve at their own pace
Things you can try
Don’t try to take the pain away or pretend it’s not there.
When children face the death of someone they care about, it’s natural for them to experience a rollercoaster of emotions. It can be tough to see your child in pain and it’s natural to want to stop that pain. But don’t try to take it away or pretend it’s not there.
Instead, make yourself available to talk about the bereavement when your child is ready. And remember, children often grieve in different ways to adults so they’re likely to jump from one emotion to another.
Don’t forget that children can have feelings of grief for other situations involving loss, such as moving home, coping with parents separating, or a pet dying.
Be as honest as you can when you answer their questions
Children ask questions to help them make sense of the world. When it comes to death, some of those questions might be difficult or upsetting. For example, you might not know how to respond to questions like, “what will happen to the body?”. But it’s ok not to know. Just be honest about it.
We sometimes worry that talking to our children about someone’s death will make their grief worse. But it’s often when children are left to fill in the gaps that they become even more confused or scared.
Help them feel secure
Caregivers play an important role in helping children to cope in the healthiest way possible. Try some of the following things to help your child feel safe while they grieve.
- Reassure them that it’s not their fault. And that it’s normal to have lots of different feelings when someone dies.
- Look at age-appropriate stories to help children make sense of what they’re going through.
- Be there for them. Whether that’s for a hug, to listen to their worries, or to do something fun together.
- Think about drawing pictures, writing a story or letter, or making a memory box with special things in it.
- Whenever possible, keep to your usual routines, like bedtime and school time.
Show them that it’s ok to be upset.
You may think you need to put on a brave face and hide your grief to protect your child. Or you may worry that your child may get upset if they see you cry. But your child will learn from you that it’s ok to be upset.
Reach out for support
Let your child's school know when someone important in their life has died. Teachers and other staff may be a good source of support. And remember to reach out for support for yourself when you need it.
You can call the charity Child Bereavement's helpline for advice on supporting a child when someone dies. UK charity Winston’s Wish also has a helpline you can contact for support.
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