Some suggestions as to how you can support a young child who has been bereaved

 

Try to keep the child in a routine, remember if the child is regressing then this is a normal reaction and they will recover.

Return the child to school as soon as it is practical and speak to the teacher so that the school can respond appropriately to the child. School for children can provide a support and structure that can assist them to have ‘time out’ from a grieving home, and give them a sense of normality.

Provide a cosy blanket or familiar cuddly toy. This can provide comfort to the child and remind them of security.

Use a night light for reassurance and keep bedtime to a routine. Warm milk and a bedtime story can help. If the child is experiencing nightmares then reassure them that they are okay and allow them to tell you about the dream.

Be prepared for unusual and recurring questions. Try to answer honestly as children are often quick to know when something they are told is not right.

Allow a child to act out their confusion or anger. While for adults it can be upsetting to observe a child playing ‘death’ or acting aggressively with their toys, these behaviours can assist a child to process the information and begin to make sense of it. Often children will replay the same game over and over.

Talk to the child or allow them to talk about the deceased. Looking at photos or DVD’s, and remembering happier times does remind the child that memories are still special and these have not been lost.

Helping the child build a memory box, gathering special items that remind them of the deceased and the relationship they held with them.

Helping the child say their goodbyes to the deceased – purchasing a helium balloon and writing a message to the loved one, going to a special place and letting the balloon go can help.

Don’t stop crying in front of a child, reassure them it is okay to show emotion, and it is your time to be sad. Reassure the child that while it is okay to cry it is also alright to laugh and be happy.

Sometimes children will talk about ‘seeing the deceased’ and ghosts can become a topic of interest. If the child says they have ‘seen’ the deceased don’t dismiss it, but reassure the child that the deceased would not cause them harm.

Don’t exclude the child from arrangements or anniversaries. Include them and allow them to express their views about how they want to remember the deceased.

Sometimes the child may need an item of clothing of the deceased or may have a memory of a special perfume, or aftershave. Smell is an important sense and sometimes children need to have the reminder of the smell that will provide them with comfort.

Remember that the impact of bereavement will have affected the child in some way. The pace of grief for a child can be unique and initially the child may show no reaction at all, but the reaction may come many weeks or months after the death. You cannot pressure the child to grieve, but you can allow time and space and reassurance that they have not caused the death, and they can be encouraged to remember the deceased in whatever way they need to.

 

Some suggestions as to how you can support a teenager who has been bereaved

Acknowledge that grief is normal and everyone has a unique reaction, reassure them that whatever their reaction it is normal for them.

Give space and allow the young person to talk at their own pace. It can be frustrating for adults who want the young person to talk about how they are feeling, and placing pressure on them to do so can alienate the young person and prevent them from speaking when they are ready

Help a young person find a way to channel their anger. This can be a physical method for example hitting a pillow, punch bag, or a physical sport.

Don’t exclude them or try to protect them from information, young people can manage information if it is told in an open and honest way. If information is hidden or they find out they have been lied to, then this can undermine relationships and break trust.

Allow the young person to find some respite from the family home, it may be allowing them to have sleep overs at a friend’s home as this can provide a sense of normality.

The young person may find it easier to talk to someone outside of their family. This may be a peer, or a teacher or a family friend. If the death is a close family member, then other people will be grieving, and sometimes young people find it hard to share their grief in case they ‘upset’ other people.

Talk about the deceased; remind young people that learning to live without them does not mean the memories are lost.

 Support the young person to attend the funeral, memorial services or other events, if they wish to attend. Allow the young person to make their own mind up whether they want to attend.

 

When you May Need to Seek Professional Help

In some circumstances children and young people may be traumatised by the death. This may be due to them either being witness to the death, or a survivor.

If the death was caused by murder that may have led to press or media involvement it is likely that the child or young person will experience a traumatic response. While this is normal it may assist if they have the opportunity to talk to someone outside of the family unit.

If the death was due to suicide then this can lead to a huge sense of guilt. This mode of death leaves behind a legacy, and it may be helpful for the child or young person to have an opportunity to talk to someone outside of the family.

If the child or young person was involved in the death, for example a survivor of an accident or an event, then it is likely that they will have a traumatic response. They may benefit from having professional support, so that their own needs can be addressed.

Traumatic responses are a normal response to an abnormal event. The trauma can increase normal emotional response and lead to overwhelming feelings of distress. It is important to remember that children and young people do recover from trauma and are able to lead healthy and successful lives.

 

Where to seek professional support

Arranging an appointment with the GP can be the trigger for a referral to Child and Family Mental Health or the local CAHMS ( Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) practitioner. The wait for an appointment to a specialised service may take time, and it is important that you seek advice on how best to manage the child’s or young person’s circumstances.

Counselling

Some child or young people’s counselling services are available within Grampian. These are specialised services and there can be a waiting list. Organisations such as CRUSE, CLAN, and MHA Young Persons Service accept direct referrals from families.

ChildLine

Some children and young people may wish and find it easier to talk to a trained counsellor on the telephone, and ChildLine offer a 24 hour confidential service. ChildLine will not pass on information to a child’s parent or relative as they operate a code of confidentiality.

Seasons for Growth

Some schools within Grampian will be able to organise and facilitate a group for bereaved children, using the Seasons for Growth model.

 

 

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