Grief and Bereavement with Children

Everyone experiences bereavement, grief and loss differently. It is the feeling when we lose something (including pets) or someone important to us. There is no right or wrong way to feel.  There are other types of loss such as losing home, end of relationship (separation/divorce) or losing a job. Due to the corona virus pandemic many people would have experienced a combination of these things. These feeling can affect our life and there are things we can try that may help overcome this.

Children grieve too, however in the past people believed that children did not have the ability to understand. In the past we would not talk about grief we would get on with it by maintaining a good routine as much as possible, to provide a sense of security. People felt this was the best way to protect children from the bereavement. However, we have learnt that grief is transitional which means it will resurface again on memorable days. Re- grieve is when people grieve again later in life as they may have experiences loss at a very young age.

Prior to Covid 19 we talked about death a lot less or would use words such as loss. The pandemic has changed this, and we used words such as dead, died more often. As we go through another national lockdown and school being closed children as well as adults have a more heightened anxiety around death due to the exposure of media.

Lighting Candle

Common Reactions to Grief

  • Emotions – overwhelming sadness (a lot of crying), fear, relief, numbness, confusion, loneliness, shock or anxiety. Usually the first reaction to loss, and people often talk about “being in a daze”
  • Anger – towards the person you have lost or the reason for your loss
  • Guilt – for example, guilt about feeling angry, about something you said or did not say, or not being able to stop your loved one dying
  • Sleeping difficulties – sleeping a lot or not enough
  • Eating problems- Eating a lot to overcome sadness, not eating enough or not eating at all
  • Tiredness or exhaustion – a lot of effect required to complete simple tasks
  • Imagined illness – for example if I have a cough may be, I have COVID-19 I may die too
  • Regression – bedwetting (wetting the bed at night), sucking thumb, wanting to be close to someone, wanting to sleep in parents’ bed at night
  • Separation and anxiety – become upset when someone leaves, has many fears, not wanting to return to school or leave the house.
  • Lack of confidence – needs a lot of encouragement to complete simple tasks or try something new
  • Loss of focus/concentration – difficulty playing or concentrating on a task for a specific period or forgets a lot.

These feelings may not be there all the time and powerful feelings may appear unexpectedly. It is not always easy to recognise when bereavement, grief or loss are the reason you are acting or feeling differently.

Child comforting parent

Stages of bereavement or grief

Experts generally accept that we go through 4 stages of bereavement or grief:

  1. Accepting that your loss is real – waking up in the morning and realising the person is gone
  2. Experiencing the pain of grief – not a pleasant experience
  3. Adjusting to life without the person or thing you have lost – how am I going to manage
  4. Putting less emotional energy into grieving and putting it into something new – to find an enduring connection with the deceased amid embarking on a new life. It is not about forgetting but remembering (memories that connect to the feeling such as a piece of music or artwork)

Most people go through all these stages, but you will not necessarily move smoothly from one to the next. Adults can get stuck in a particular stage for a period. In couples, one person may be very stuck with one stage and the other adult on another e.g., one parent may feel how can the other get up and go to work? Children tend to jump in between stages which is seen as a healthier way.

The widely accepted motion that the bereaved must let go of the deceased confuses our understanding of the mourning process. The process can differ to person to person and is not a quick fix. Your grief might feel chaotic and out of control, but these feelings will eventually become less intense over time.

Growing with grief – Lois Tonkins model 1996

Growing with Grief

Things you can try to help with bereavement, grief and loss

Children may not talk about their feelings, but you may observe they express them better through play. For example, a child may role play crashing cars then someone dies. This may be their way of processing what has happening around them.

Depending on your child age we can help them understand about death. Children under the age of 5 do not understand what ‘gone for forever’ means and will ask when the person will be returning. We can use nature to help us talk about death such as how do you know that leaf/ animal is alive? How do we know it not alive?

Reassure children that it was not their fault as quite often they blame themselves such as ‘I didn’t brush my teeth that why dad died’.

Between the ages of 6-10yrs children develop their understanding of death. Talk about or show what your belief, religion, culture or community do to celebrate/rituals of the dead.  Children may ask questions such as when will I die? Where do dead people go? Is dead like being asleep?

Set small goals that you can easily achieve and do not try and do everything in one go. Making a small list to keep you on track may be helpful.

Focus your time and energy into helping yourself feel better instead of worrying about what you cannot change. Speak to a professional if worries get worse and affecting your sleep.

Most people feel alone after a loss however there are plenty of support available. You are not alone. Away to help remember can be to create a memory box, gather things that remind you of the deceased.

Try and focus on good coping strategies a lot of people may use alcohol, cigarettes, gambling or drugs to relieve grief however this may make you feel good in short term but can be harmful to your mental health later on.

Bereavement Support

Child Bereavement UK

Child Bereavement UK on 0800 02 888 40 or visit the website here. Below are some pages you may find useful.

Charity and Support Organisations

Below are some helpful links to organisations who maybe able to support you through your time of grief.

NHS and Government Support

If you need more support please contact the team who may be able to support you here.

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