"it is better to include and involve children...at their appropriate level of understanding"

Supporting Grieving Children

When a member of the family is very ill and possibly dying, or has died, it can be very difficult for all those who love and care for them. People may experience a range of emotions such as anger, guilt, irritability, panic, deep sadness, an empty feeling of loss etc and also physical reactions such as palpitations, disturbed sleep, feeling sick, lapses of concentration and so forth. We cannot behave as though nothing is wrong, however hard we may try.

Children often sense that things are not right but they may be too scared to ask questions if they think that it will only add to emotional distress at home. We may be trying to protect them, but a change in our behaviour, and in our behaviour towards them may make them more confused and uncertain, and they may feel that they have done something wrong.

Generally, it is better to include and involve children so far as this is possible and at their appropriate level of understanding. You know your children better than anyone else and you need to be able to love one another through very difficult times. Use words that you know they will understand and, maybe, read an appropriate story-book together. There is never a “right” time; but if children are excluded and confused, all the time for them will be a wrong time! So take time to tell them something about what is happening and give as much reassurance to them as you can.

Partial and inaccurate information can be more worrying than the truth. Children normally benefit from having simple and straightforward information and answers to their questions. They may ask a number of questions and seek some information that can be emotionally difficult for adults to talk about, but simple age-appropriate answers with lots of reassurance and a willingness to take the questions seriously will be helpful. You may need to repeat the explanations and be ready for the children to have heard enough for now and want to do something completely different. This is normal behaviour. They need to find their own balance between sharing in pain and loss on the one hand and having fun and being “normal” children on the other.

Many children like to visit someone they love, even if that person is very ill; this need only be for a short time, but it can allow them to tell one other of their love. Some children do not want to visit – there are no absolute rights and wrongs regarding this- but they may like to draw a picture or send a card. The key thing is a mutually agreed and supportive approach.

Child Bereavement Support

Click here to find out more about our Child Bereavement Support services.

Useful resources

It may be helpful to have further information and, possibly, support. There are a number of useful websites providing resources and expertise. These include:

Child Bereavement UK


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