Helping children cope with bereavement

If someone close to your family is dying or has died, you may be worried about talking to your child about death in case you frighten them. But children need to talk about how they are feeling and may want to know why or how the person died and where they are now. Some children may prefer to talk to their friends or people outside of their immediate family.

Different ways your child may react to grief

Children's reactions can be intense and difficult to control. Your child's response could be emotional and, or physical and it may be very different to yours. If they are in shock, they might sob or laugh uncontrollably or start putting things away and clearing up.

It is common for children to feel angry and find it difficult to describe or understand how they feel, they could:

  • become aggressive
  • have tantrums
  • become disruptive at school
  • feel guilty
  • turn to drugs or alcohol
  • self-harm.

What you can do to help

  • Try to keep to normal daily routines.
  • Be honest and use language that is appropriate to your child's age and understanding.
  • Allow your child to ask questions about death and what dying means, and answer them truthfully.
  • Give your child time to grieve. Trying to distract them from their sorrow can cause problems later on.
  • Give your child the facts about how the person died in a way they will understand.
  • Avoid using metaphors for death such as "dad has gone to sleep", this could make your child afraid of going to sleep, or believe that dad will wake up one day and come back.
  • Talk to your child and include them in what is going on.
  • Encourage your child to share how they are feeling and what frightens them.
  • The emotions your child is experiencing may be very intense so encourage them to express their feelings.

Support and advice

There are charities offering advice, emotional support and practical help to families who have experienced the death of a loved one. Some services work directly with children, and others can train teachers to support children at their school.

Local support for children who know someone who has died