Grief is messy, and grieving can be confusing. For children, the big emotions often can’t be labelled and they pop up out of nowhere. The grieving child puddles in and out of their intense grief. One moment they are overcome with missing their person, next moment they are asking for the ketchup to have with dinner.
Understanding the signs of grief and helping children to talk about how they feel takes time and practise. As their special adult you are most likely grieving too, finding time for your own grief once you have dealt with their needs.
Our team of support workers listen to bereaved families and the challenges they face. Here are some ideas of ways you can communicate with others to help get the support you need.
Remind teachers and school staff of your family dynamic
Every new academic year brings new adults into your child’s life at school. It can be helpful for them to know that your child is bereaved and any potential triggers. This could be an email to remind them or asking for a meeting with a new class teacher or Head of Year. Things to point out to staff is an increased sensitivity around mothers or fathers day, remembrance day, key texts read in class (stories that look at loss) or learning about illnesses in science).
Leaving a loved one at the start of a school day can be hard
Bereaved children of any age can worry about saying goodbye in the morning and what might happen during the day. They can experience more intense feelings of worry. Have a clear routine so you and your child know what’s happening. This routine can be more important in times of change. Speak to school about contact with your child during the day and it that is something that they can help with. Some children need to feel connected to their adult during the day.
Allow for anger and give space for big feelings
Children need to show their feelings when a loved one dies. Anger is a difficult feeling as its usually shown towards you as their trusted adult. If you can, help you child recognise their feelings of anger when they are emerging. Have something that they can ‘do’ when they start to feel really cross – kicking a ball around, trampoline, throwing bean bags. If it helps, do it together
Make time for sadness and reflection
Just as anger creeps in uninvited, so can sadness. Children can appreciate this time to reflect, maybe having a ‘comfort box’ of special things could help them. A favourite teddy, a comforting smell or something to help them feel close to their loved one could all be inside. Over time, they may recognise when they need to look at their comfort box.
A child’s understanding of death changes over time
You may find that even when some time has passed your child is asking questions you thought you had already answered. As children grow up their understanding will change along with their development. So if they were bereaved as a 5 year old, when they are 10 they could have a different understanding or questions about how or why their loved one died. Be as open and as honest as you feel you can, try to be age appropriate too.
Reach out for support, however small you think your question may be
Our support workers are on hand to listen, suggest and offer guidance if anything worries you about your child’s behaviour. Please do contact us via our Helpline, our website or using the contact details you were given after a referral.
We are here for you. For anyone struggling to cope, our helpline is open Monday – Friday, 9.30am – 12.30pm. Call 01342 313895 if you need support or advice. We help bereaved children and young people and those facing the death of a loved one in Surrey, Crawley, Mid Sussex and West Kent.