A Parent’s Guide – Children and Bereavement

by Steve Pritchard-Jones

“It’s the process of grieving that’s important and necessary, not the understanding of it.”

If a child has a family member or a friend who has died or receiving palliative care, they will need support from those who love them or from an external agency.

A child or young person’s anxiety levels are often extremely high before bereavement because they are scared and worried about the unknown. This could result in a child becoming withdrawn, tearful, aggressive, as well has exhibiting self-harm. 

Children and young people can access bereavement counselling and this gives them the opportunity think and talk about their feelings and share their worries. However, not children and young people feel comfortable about talking to a stranger.

Whilst some children are happy to go to see a counsellor, others may be reluctant. Some children feel comfortable talking to an impartial adult who can assist with some of their issues, but not all children are on board with this approach. From my experience as a headteacher, I know that convincing a reluctant child to go to counselling can feel like an uphill battle. Parents have asked me questions like, “should I force my child to see a counsellor?” “Can I bribe my child to go?” “Should I just give up on the idea and hope that the issues will go away?” 

A child or young person who feels forced to speak to a counsellor will probably be reluctant and refuse to attend. A good counsellor can often engage with a child after a few sessions but you must be patient and let the child talk when they are ready to talk. Some children and young people will on the surface appear to dislike the counsellor but underneath, they feel confident enough to talk openly and this will eventually this will help them overcome their apprehensions. Some children are embarrassed about counselling so may give you impressions but actually, they do like it, and they know, deep down, that it will help them.  

If you think your child might need counselling, the way you start to consider the subject is delicate but important. The first conversation you have will set the scene for your child’s attitude about receiving counselling therapy. 

Its common for children and young people to be totally embarrassed by their issues and it can be hard for them to admit they need help. So as a parent, it’s important to be positive and to avoid sending negative messages that could cause feelings of humiliation.

Be open and honest about why you think counselling is beneficial and how it could be helpful. Ask their opinion, be willing to listen without being judgemental.

Say something like, “I wonder if it would be helpful for you to have someone to talk to besides me.” Or, “I don’t always know how to help you with problems so I wonder if it could be helpful for you to talk to someone who works with children of your age.” Or, “Would you like me to talk to someone at school?”

If your child refuses to go to counselling (and this is very common), don’t worry. 

You still have several options about how to get help.

  • Seek counselling on your own. Parent sessions can be one of the most effective ways to help your child because it will help you understand them better. You will learn how to support and prepare your child. Tell your child you are going to counselling, it may persuade them to attend too.
  • Speak with the school pastoral lead or school counsellor. They will know if there are any services available within the school system to help your child. 
  • Consider online counselling. If a face to face session is an issue consider the online counselling option. Online counselling isn’t appropriate for every condition so speak to your GP about the pros and cons. The YoungMinds website has more information on counselling services for children and young people.

Other strategies that may help.

Make a memory box – If you are a parent, and you know you’re going to die, you could make a memory box to give to your child or make one together. A memory box contains things that remind you both of your time together. The box can include gifts, shells collected on the beach, memories written on a card, photographs etc. Include anything that makes the child feel connected to you. It can provide an important bond between you and your child once you’ve gone. 

Talk about the person who has died or is at the end of life stage. During bereavement, it can help a child to talk about the person, whether it be a family member or a friend. It’s important to have a honest, direct, and open conversation with your child because this is more supportive than trying to protect your child by hiding the truth. If you exclude them from family ceremonies and services after someone has died it could make them feel isolated and could result in anxiety and depression. 

Encourage your child be open about their own feelings. A good strategy is to talk as a family about how they could be included in the funeral or celebration of life ceremony. Its important that they share their emotions. This could be through photos, stories, or a memory box. 

Over time, children and young people may begin to talk more about their sadness but do not rush the process. 

There are several bereavement charities that offer helplines, email support, and online communities and message boards for children. These include:

Child Bereavement UK Tel: 0800 028 8840 Email support@childbereavement.org  

Cruse Bereavement Care Tel: 0808 808 1677 Email info@cruse.org.uk

Grief Encounter Tel: 0808 802 0111 Email contact@griefencounter.org.uk

Hope Again Tel: 0808 808 1677 Email hopeagain@cruse.org.uk

Winston’s Wish Tel: 0808 802 0021 Email info@winstonswish.org

You can also find out more about children and bereavement from the Childhood Bereavement Network

Steve Pritchard-Jones

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Steve Pritchard-Jones

Steve Pritchard-Jones

I am an independent civil celebrant conducting weddings, celebration of life/funerals, commitment, civil partnership, renewal of vows, adoption welcoming, naming, pet funerals, internment or scatter of ashes, memorials service, and even divorce ceremonies in Shropshire, West Midlands, Mid and North Wales, Derbyshire, Staffordshire & throughout the UK.