Tips for supporting children dealing with grief and unexpected loss
Sadly death is something that affects us all. Talking about death and dying is a difficult subject to discuss and often we shy away from explaining it to children, in order to protect them. Being a funeral director for over 330 years, we see first hand the impact that grief and unexpected loss can have on adults, let alone children. In this article we have provided some tips for helping your child deal with death.
Talk openly and honestly and avoid euphemisms
- Our instincts as adults are to try to shield our children from pain and protect them from answers to the questions they are bound to ask. It is very important that we are careful with the language we use when speaking to children about death as some of the analogies we use to explain death – for example, likening death to being asleep, may confuse or upset them as kids tend to be very literal.
Help them say goodbye with a letter or crafts
- Some families find writing a letter to put in the coffin with their loved one to be a true comfort, and an opportunity to say those things perhaps left unsaid. This could be an activity that is done with your kids to help them understand the situation and feel closure that they have properly said goodbye to their lost family member or loved one.
Find them a role in the ceremony
- Challenging as it may seem, having a role to play in the funeral ceremony can be a useful context for children to understand why they’re present. This could be by reading a poem, a prose they’ve picked or even sharing their own thoughts about the loved one who has died. It is quite common for kids who have been learning a musical instrument to play at the relevant moment in the service, whether this is in person or, in these days of reduced attendance, a pre-recorded performance aired virtually. All of these are ways in which children can feel like they are a part of what is going on and that they have contributed. C.P.J Field provides kids with a participation certificate when they are involved with funeral ceremonies to mark their brave contribution.
Include them in the decision making
- Children are a light and hope for the future and including them in the funeral service can help their future and make them part of the community in grief, that remembers with sadness, but looks forward in expectation of happier times to come. Shielding children can lead to issues with dealing and accepting loss later in life.
Normalise feeling emotions
- Initial reactions in kids may range from great distress to what may seem to be unconcern – children experience grief differently to adults. For children, their grieving can seem more sporadic. One minute, they may be sobbing, the next they are asking: ‘What’s for tea?’ It does not mean they care any less about what has happened. It is important that we ride these waves of emotions with them and importantly, make them feel they can express their emotions when they are upset.
Do what feels right for your family
- It is true that from time-to-time families will worry about doing things that perceive as being “normal”, when in fact it’s really important to do what feels right for that person in the moment – for both themselves and their family. Before the funeral some families have found it helpful to come to their local C.P.J Field funeral home and see the coffin. Other families have found decorating the coffin at this time an appropriate way to try to normalise the experience.
You may find our child-friendly 'How are you feeling?' journal useful. It was designed by the daughter of our Head of Training, Peter Linford and was created as a way to help a child express their feelings and emotions.
There are various organisations which can help following the death of someone close. We have listed a few below which are specifically targeted at children's bereavement, but there are many local ones too, who are fully equipped to offer support.
- Childhood Bereavement Network – a hub for anyone supporting bereaved children http://www.childhoodbereavementnetwork.org.uk/
- Local Childhood Bereavement Network supported Organisations: http://www.childhoodbereavementnetwork.org.uk/help-around-a-death/find-help-near-you.aspx
- Winstons Wish - providing a wide range of practical support and guidance to bereaved children: https://www.winstonswish.org
- WYG – ‘What’s your grief’ – supporting a wide variety of losses, and ways to cope: https://whatsyourgrief.com/death-of-a-sibling/
- The Samaritans – help for anyone dealing with any type of loss or issue: https://www.samaritans.org/
- Hope Again – for young people needing support following a loss: https://www.hopeagain.org.uk/
- Cruse Bereavement – for support after a loss: https://www.cruse.org.uk/