Supporting Bereavement for Children and Young People
Bereavement can impact us all, and for some, it can have an impact early on in our life as a child or a young person. This section will aim to support you in your role as an educator if this is applicable to any young people within your setting. Most children and young people will not require the support of a specialist within the field of bereavement, but all would need someone who cares about how they are feeling. By engaging as you normally would on a daily basis, whilst keeping in mind the bereavement, could really provide a huge amount of support to a bereaved child or young person.
It is important to remember that every child is an individual and has their own unique way of processing information. This is no different in regard to managing life before, during and after a bereavement. Children and young people may feel the sense of bereavement as much as the adults around them, however they may display this in different ways. Some children learn to grieve by modelling the adults around them and may look to the adults, including education staff, to provide much needed emotional support when they need it.
Child Bereavement UK have a website with resources on supporting bereavement and advise that young people may feel or experience the following:
- feelings of anxiousness at the uncertainty around for them
- feelings of anger towards themselves or others
- feeling a sense of responsibility for the adults around them
- being in a sense of denial about the bereavement
- engaging in risk taking behaviours at home, education or in the wider community
- appearing not to react to the circumstances
- being withdrawn from education or social circles
- increased screen time and engagement on social media
There are a number of bereavement related charities that provide expert support if you are concerned for someone experiencing bereavement. They also provide useful tips and information on how to support someone experiencing these symptoms. Cruse Bereavement have a number of resources that are applicable and informative regarding supporting young people with grief, loss and bereavement, including a dedicated website for young people to visit, how to help someone who is bereaved and what to say when someone is first bereaved. Winston’s Wish are another charity that specialise in supporting young people with bereavement and have developed a specific section on supporting this during Coronavirus.
The NHS have produced some helpful tips on supporting bereaved children and young people, including:
- making a memory box to support emotions
- provide direct and open communication to a child or young person
- supporting children and young people through play
It is important to remember that nothing can take away the sadness or the pain that young people experience through bereavement and some will continue to have these feelings of loss throughout their life, particularly if the relationship they had with the person who has died is very close, such as a parent or close loved one. However, there are ways we can try and support these emotions and this can centre around trying to build a level of resilience for each child or young person. This can be by doing the following:
- Re-assure them that what they are feeling is normal and the death is not their fault
- Remind them that they are special in their own way
- Engage them with familiar routines to increase feelings of security
- Keep normal and clear boundaries within education settings
- Allow them to acknowledge the ever-changing emotions they are experiencing
- Let them laugh and have fun, whilst advising it is still important to do so
- Keep them at the centre of their life, allow them to continue to make choices about how they feel
- Communicate with others, including family, to ensure support is done consistently
- Praise and acknowledge successes or achievements
Supporting children and young people with bereavement can be a difficult task, particularly during the global pandemic, however we are hopeful that this section has provided you with answers to some of your questions alongside signposting you to various places for wider or further support.
- https://www.cruse.org.uk/node/57 - Cruse Bereavement: How to help someone bereaved
- https://www.cruse.org.uk/node/1934 - Cruse Bereavement: What to say when someone is first bereaved
- https://www.winstonswish.org/coronavirus/ - Winston’s Wish: Supporting Children through Coronavirus
Link to useful worksheets: https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-worksheets/grief/none
Barnardo’s have a Child Bereavement Service Adviceline which can be accessed by any adult concerned about a child or young person bereaved living in Northern Ireland. They operate Monday and Tuesday from 10-1pm and Friday from 10-12.30pm. The number is 07867372711.