Helping children deal with grief

by Steve Pritchard-Jones

In my previous role as a head teacher for 13 successful years at a school for children aged 11-16 with social and emotional issues I know far too well that over the last couple of years, the mental health of children has been underestimated. The Covid-19 pandemic caused the world to become even more augmented through the medium of social media & TV at a time of significant levels of social disconnection and emotional misperception.

Grief is the acute pain that accompanies loss. Because it is a reflection of what we love, it can feel all-encompassing. Grief is not limited to the loss of people, but when it follows the loss of a loved one, it may be compounded by feelings of guilt and confusion, especially if the relationship was a challenging one.

Pre-pandemic events continue regardless of this new ‘norm’: the death of loved one including pets will bring about the grieving process. As pre-teens become teenagers, they enter a period of self-critical judgment and as well sexual awareness and confusion. Parents are tasked with the tough mission of attempting to guide while simultaneously dealing with the new ‘norm’ themselves.

Everyday grief events like grappling with the unknown, overwhelm, and children can soon burnout due to stress caused by school and other related activities; these soon build into bigger grief events. This trauma can lead to low self-esteem, change in behaviour, depression, and sometimes cause a child to self-harm.

Helpful hints and tips

Remind them it’s perfectly normal to grieve. Create a space for the child to actively grieve without peer or parental pressure. Let them grieve in their only time and no one else’s.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions but don’t pressure them to answer you, take this as an opportunity to set an example of poise and patience.

Answer their questions honestly. Put feelings into words and phrases they understand. Keep it simple and straightforward.

Lead by example. Though it is difficult to put your grief aside, remember children are vulnerable and will copy by example.

Build up social activities. Regular social interaction with others is important to help a child broaden their understanding of their own social self-confidence. Talking with other is an important part of processing the situation, but keep in mind that the grieving process can never be forced.

A child may become overwhelmed and have a panic attack.

When your child is in the middle of an anxious moment, they may feel frightened, agitated and extremely worried, this will heighten their anxiety.

Here are six ways you can help them calm down and feel safe.

  1. Breathe slowly and deeply together. You can count slowly to five as you breathe in, and then five as you breathe out. If this is too much, try starting with shorter counts. If it works for them, gradually encourage your child to breathe out for one or two counts longer than they breathe in, as this can help their body relax.
  • Sit with them and offer calm physical reassurance. Feeling you nearby, or holding your hand, can be soothing.
  • Try using all five senses together. Connecting with what they can see, touch, hear, smell and taste can bring them closer to the present moment and reduce the intensity of their anxiety. You might think together about five things they can see, four things they can touch, three things they can hear, two things they can smell and one thing they can taste.
  • Reassure them that the anxiety will pass and that they will be okay. It can be helpful to describe it as a wave that they can ride or surf until it peaks, breaks and gets smaller.
  • Ask them to think of a safe and relaxing place or person in their mind. If you haven’t tried this before, agree with them when they’re feeling calm what this place or person is. It could be their bedroom, a grandparent’s house, a favourite place in nature or somewhere they’ve been on holiday. Sometimes holding a memento of a relaxing place, like a seashell or pebble, can help.
  • Encourage them to do something that helps them to feel calmer. This could be running, walking, listening to music, reading, painting, drawing or colouring-in, writing, or watching a favourite film.

Feel me to contact me for further help and advice.

Steve Pritchard-Jones

Top Note Ceremonies ‘at your service’



Tel: 07988 626583

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.

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