RESOURCES: HELP FOR PARENTS/CARERS
Supporting a child and young person through a bereavement during the pandemic
Grief during the pandemic is challenging, and for children it can add additional challenges. Their routine of school and of being able to see friends is disrupted and it may also be that they have not been able to see the person who died for quite a long time now. It could also be that they have been left out of the funeral due to a limited number of relatives being able to attend. In these times it is even more important for children to have the information they need to be able to understand what is going on, and how they can be part of saying goodbye to their loved ones. Communicating what has happened is always important, giving honest answers to any questions children and young people may have will help them to start to process what has happened. At each developmental stage children will have a slightly different experience.
Younger children will need honest simple answers and may need these repeated several times. Older children and young people will need more detailed information and honest answers to their questions. Use clear language such as dead and died, rather than saying the person has ‘gone to sleep’ as this can cause confusion and anxiety especially for younger children as this may leave them frightened of going to bed. Keeping to a normal routine at the moment is challenging however after a family bereavement avoid changing things such as bed time routines, when you have breakfast, lunch and dinner, as routine helps keep children reassured that some things are predictable and can be expected to happen. Its also important for children and young people to know that it is ok for everyone to grieve in their own way and in their own time as it is a very personal experience, though it is likely that a family will share similar experiences and will be able to share similar memories with each other.
Children of different ages will have different needs.
Age Birth to 2 years old.
Babies and young children will have little idea of the loss and will often seem unaffected by it. However, they will at some level sense what the family is experiencing, they may have increased disrupted sleep and therefore may need more comfort and love during this time.
Age 2 to 5 years old.
Generally, children of this age will not be able to understand that someone has died and what that means. They may often ask when they are coming back and can ask if they can go and see them. They may repeat the same questions, and may be looking for you to answer again, and possibly give a little more information each time. Honest answers are important but small pieces of information each time to allow your child to slowly gain understanding is important too. Children of this age may start to regress slightly, with bed wetting, making baby noises, and starting to suck a thumb again or ask for a dummy is common and they may need some reassurance, comfort and love during this time.
Age 6-10 years old.
Children of this age will have more of an idea of the bigger world, and what is means to lose something. They may become very anxious about their safety within the world. They may not ask as many questions and may if not given the correct information start to develop their own idea or story around how the person died. Children of this age can often blame themselves for the death, especially if it is a parent, as they may believe that if they had been ‘good’ the person would not have died. Clear information, reassurance and making space for them to ask any questions they may have is especially important at this time. Books about loss are especially helpful for this age group.
Ages 11-18 years old
Young people of this age are likely to have a more adult understand of death. They may become withdrawn and are less likely to ask for help when they need it. They may appear to be doing ok, or they may be acting out their emotions in risk taking behaviour. They may lean more on their friends for support than a parent or a trusted adult, and may form strong beliefs about the world, and question their own mortality. They will need to have access to information, which is trusted, and often the internet is a place they will go. Guiding young people to the correct sites is particularly important for this age group. Being with other young people who have also experienced a bereavement is especially helpful for this age group.
For children with ASD (Autistic spectrum disorder) and additional needs.
If you can prepare the child or young person before the death, this can help them to prepare for what will happen. Be honest and keep information factual and for younger children as simple as possible. Explaining what death means such as ‘when someone dies, we can no longer see them, or talk to them, and they will not come back’. Structure some time to talk about what has happened and what may happen next in the family, that people may cry, and that it is ok to for them to be sad or angry. Helping your child to label difficult emotions is very important in helping them to be able to cope with difficult emotions, using drawings and things like smiley face stickers to express the emotion and communicate how they are feeling can be helpful too.
Ideas of how help a child and a young person say goodbye.
All of the ideas can be adapted for all ages and can be really helpful to start to process the loss of a loved one, especially if you were unable to say goodbye to them. You may want to do these together as a family, friendship group or on your own.
Writing a goodbye letter or a card
Writing a letter or a card to say goodbye can be a really helpful way to say the things you may have wanted to say. You may want to say how you felt about this person, how you are feeling about the fact that they have died, what you will miss about them, and how you will remember them. You may want to ask an adult to help you with this.
Drawing or painting a picture
Drawing or painting a picture for the person who died, can allow you to show what you may not be able to say in words. Draw or paint a picture that either reminds you of the person, maybe a memory of a special day out, or where you think they are now, who is with them.
Drawing a timeline river or path
Ask an adult who knew the person well to help with this exercise. You can draw a winding river or a path and along this you can either write or draw things about the person’s life. Where they were born, when they had their first pet, where they went to school, where did they live, who did they meet.
You can use a photo album or a notebook, or you can create a digital photo book. Collect photos of the person who died or postcards and pictures that remind you of the person who died. You can put them in your photo album, and if you like write a small note about each photo and what it means to you.
All of the above items can then be kept safe in a memory box.
A shoe box is an ideal size as this will give you space to put special things in the box like drawings and photographs.
Decorate the outside of a box with things that remind you of the person who died. You could use wrapping paper or paint, stickers or colouring pencils and pens. You may want to write the persons name on the box.
Collect some items that remind you of the person who died such as photos or a piece of memorabilia like a key ring, a pen, a piece of jewellery, an item of clothing from the person who died.
You can also add a drawing or a letter you have written to the person who died.
Similar to the Memory box, you can collect things that remind you of the person who died, or you can use the jar to write small notes to the person when you miss them or when you remember something you would have like to have told them. You can decorate the jar with stickers, ribbons, and a name tag.
You may also want to try…..
Planting a tree, a plant or sowing some seeds.
With the help of an adult you could plant a tree or a plant in the garden, something the person who died would have liked. Or you could sow some seeds or a plant the person would have liked. When cover the plant base or seeds with the soil, take a moment to remember the person who died, you may want to say something about the person or a pray for them.
Light a candle
With the help of an adult you may want to light a candle for the person who died. When you light the candle, you may either want to say something about the person who died, or you may want to share a memory of the person or say a pray for them.
Create an area in your garden, balcony, or windowsill
You can create an area for the person who died, use some fairy lights, a photo in a frame or some ornaments that remind you of the person who died.
Recommended Books for children experiencing grief
Muddles, Puddles and Sunshine: Activity book to help when someone has died. By Diane Crossley
Badgers parting gifts: A picture book to help children deal with death. By Susan Varley.
Water Bugs and Dragonflies: Explaining Death to Young Children. By Doris Stickney
The Memory Tree, By Britta Teckentrup
Sad Book, Michael Rosen
Letting Go! Mindful Kids: An activity book for children who need support through experiences of loss, change, disappointment, and grief. By Sharie Coombes
I Have a Question about Death: A Book for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Other Special Needs Gaines & Englander Polsky
Recommended Books for Young people experiencing grief
Letting Go! Mindful Kids: An activity book for children who need support through experiences of loss, change, disappointment, and grief.
Sad Book, by Michael Rosen
The Grieving Teen: A guide for Teenagers and their friends.
Still here with me: Teenagers and children on losing a Parent.
You just don’t understand: Supporting Bereaved teenagers, By Winstons Wish
Finding Your Own Way to Grieve: A Creative Activity Workbook for Kids and Teens on the Autism Spectrum Karla Helbert
Supporting children and young people with Anxiety
During the pandemic levels of anxiety in our children and young people is likely to have increased. Below are some tips for parents and carers to support your children and young people with their feelings. You may also find some of the tips helpful for you if you are also experiencing increased anxiety.
Routine and healthy habits
Keeping to a routine or in the case of the pandemic creating a new routine, can be helpful for children. If it feels difficult to have routine every day, look at helping your child create healthy habits for themselves. For example, when do they want to exercise and what type of exercise, do they need some time alone and when, when will you all connect as a family, and how do you connect as a family. Keeping to a routine and healthy habits allow the child to experience that something is predictable and not everything is uncertain at this time.
Be available to your child for when they want to talk. This does not mean forcing a conversation, as it might not be the right time for your child to feel ready to talk. Let them know if they are worried about anything, they can talk to you. Create a safe space to talk; a time or a space within the house away from other family members so they can talk freely about what is on their mind.
If your child is anxious about the virus and perhaps worried that a older family member could get it, or that they could get it, be honest, reassure them with the facts such as what you are doing in your home to keep everyone safe and what older relatives are doing to stay safe.
Looking to the future
Encourage your child to look forward to the future. What will they do when this is over? What are they looking forward to? Share with them your hopes and dreams for the future, children and young people will feel reassured if you share your hopes with them too.
This can be anything from building a fort with a younger child, to asking your older child to show you how to play a game on their device. Creating family quizzes on Kahoot, or card games/board game night with some special treats creates time to play and reconnect. Having fun is important.
Encouraging creativity such as drawing, journaling, or making craft items give children and young people focus, distraction and a space to be creative, make something, using their imagination which is therapeutic during troubling times.
Connect with others
Children and especially young people will be missing their friends and encouraging them to contact them if they have not in a while is important. They may be worried that someone who was previously a friend at school has forgotten about them, they may be anxious about what that will mean for them when they go back to school.