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Help and Advice for Parents and Carers - Young People and Grief

How do I explain to my child that someone has died?

It is an adults natural instinct to protect a child from distressing news but it is important that in order to make sense of what has happened children are given information and an explanation in simple honest words in age appropriate language.  


It is best to tell the child the news as soon as possible, if you decide to keep the news from them they are likely to overhear a conversation. Children are sensitive to their surroundings and other people's emotions so will already know that something serious has occurred but will not know what it is.  It is better if a member of the family shares the news with the child or if this is to difficult then ask an adult that is known and trusted by the child.


Find a place where you will not be interrupted and sit close to the child and hold their hand  if they are comfortable with physical contact.  Make the child aware that you have some very sad news this prepares them for the news that they will be hearing.  You can reassure the child that it is ok to ask questions and you will be happy to answer any to the best of your ability.


It is  important that real words are used such as ‘dead’, using what maybe considered gentler words such as gone to sleep or is in the sky can cause complications and can confuse the child.  So as not to overwhelm the child it is advised to only answer questions that are asked and avoid giving further details.  They will usually only ask questions that they are ready to hear the answer to.


Should I take my child to the funeral?


It can be very difficult deciding whether to take children to a funeral or not, it is a very personal decision for each individual family.  There is not a right or a wrong answer but I hope you find these points useful to help you, the child and your family make the decision together.


As the child grows up they may not remember all the specific details about the funeral but will remember that it was an emotional time and that they were included in the day.  


Sometimes it is useful to have an adult that is trusted by the child and has not been so deeply affected by the death to act as a chaperone, if the child gets bored or agitated or want to leave the funeral the trusted adult can remove and distract them.


If you require further advice your funeral director will be happy to offer you advice.


I can assist in preparing your child for a funeral and to help them cope with their emotions throughout the process of grieving. If you would like to discuss or book an initial complementary consultation, please contact me. 


How could  grief affect my child at school?


  • Mood swings - happy/angry/distressed/frustrated

  • Difficulties in learning - lack of concentration and motivation

  • Quiet and withdrawn - fatigue/absence of emotion or excitement

  • Regressive behaviour - lack of confidence/clinging

  • Bad behaviour - breaking rules/truancy/ feeling that there is no point in behaving well

  • Very good behaviour - frightened of upsetting adults

  • Difficulties with friends - less sure of themselves/feel different/ may be bullying or being bullied  

  • Apparent lack of feeling or emotion


How can the school support a grieving child?


Acknowledge their loss and give them opportunities to talk or express their grief through play/art/writing but do not pressurise them.


Answer any of their questions related to death honestly and in straight forward language, appropriate to their age.


Arrange for a quiet place and/or a designated person for them to escape to should they need to.  Offering them a time out card so they can leave class if their emotions become to overwhelming.


Engage the support of their friends.


Keep as far as possible to routines, these will give a much needed sense of security.


Honour any request they have in connection with the bereavement giving them control.

Children and Young People may show how they feel and not have the vocabulary to tell us how they feel.  Sleep may be affected nightmares/bedwetting so the child may become tired.  Some children may not seem to react to the death but each child is individual and will grieve in their own unique way.


What are the warning signs that my child may be depressed?


  • Changes in mood

  • Difficulty making decisions

  • Feelings of hopelessness/worthlessness and guilt

  • Irregular sleep/insomnia

  • Decreased energy

  • Tearfulness

  • Persistently sad/anxious or empty mood

  • Restlessness

  • Appetite and weight change

  • Thoughts of suicide

If you would like to discuss how I can help you and your child cope with depression or arrange an initial consultation, please do contact me. 

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