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The term ‘bereavement’ refers to the whole process of grief and mourning and is associated with a deep sense of loss and sadness. All children will grieve when a person they love dies, although they vary tremendously in how they react. They are more resilient than adults in the face of bereavement, and in general they seem to be less affected in the long term by death than by parental separation.

A child’s level of resilience depends on a number of factors; including temperament, self-esteem, ability to form new relationships, and having a confiding relationship with a surviving adult. Parent’s reactions to loss will have a major impact on how children cope, and other family members may need reassurance that apparent indifference often occurs, and that grief may resolve more quickly in children than in adults.

Top tips

  • All of the many different emotions that children have during bereavement are completely natural and normal. Some children experience powerful emotions that they may find difficult to understand and manage. Some of the reactions can be unexpected or surprising and may seem inappropriate to adults (e.g. they may be deeply distressed one minute, then ask if they can go out to play) but this is normal and doesn’t mean that the child doesn’t care or isn’t grieving.
  • Adults often try to protect children from things they think will upset or distress them. However, children need to be given information and to be included. They can feel more anxious or lonely if they don’t know what is happening. Bereaved children may have difficulties with other children who may ask difficult questions, or may avoid them because they don’t know what to say or they are worried about getting upset themselves.
  • Consider accompanying losses – a house move, for example, may initially have more impact than the death. Remember that children’s needs change over time, they may need to go over the details of the death again at a later stage.
  • Think about yourself: talking to a child about the death of someone close may be among the hardest things you have done or will do. It can be exhausting and bewildering and it may also bring back memories of your own. Recognise that conversations may feel uncomfortable or awkward, but try to put these feelings aside and discuss things openly and freely, this will reassure children that these issues are ok to talk about.
  • Do what you can to support the child, but don’t expect too much of yourself and talk to someone if you need support.

Things that could help

Simon Says is a child and young person bereavement support charity that provides support and advice to children and their families across Hampshire.

For more information about how they might be able to support you, visit the Simon Says website or call their support line on 023 8064 7550.

Listening Ear offer a specialist counselling service for children and young people bereaved by suicide. Any parent, guardian or professional can make a referral by visiting the Listening Ear website.

Cruse are a national organisation that support children, young people and adults following a loss or bereavement. They have lots of useful information on the website to support carers and adults in supporting young people as well as tips for from children and young people themselves.

Traumatic Bereavement | UKTC ( For school staff, practitioners and parents. Tools to identify, help and support children and young people experiencing traumatic bereavement.

Winston’s Wish is a childhood bereavement charity that offers a wide range of practical support and guidance to bereaved children, their families and professionals.

Getting advice and help

Signs that a child may need extra help include:

  • Inability to sleep.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Prolonged fear of being alone.
  • Acting like a much younger child for a long time.
  • Denying that the family member has died.
  • Imitating the dead person all the time.
  • Talking repeatedly about wanting to join the dead person.
  • Withdrawing from friends.
  • A sharp drop in school performance, or refusal to attend school.

Most children who are bereaved will not require specialist mental health services normally what is needed is the support of family, friends and the school community. In schools, trusted adults who know their pupils are usually best placed to offer support.

Within schools there is a range of pastoral support available that includes Emotional Literacy Support Assistants (ELSAs) and Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (SENCO’s).

Getting more help

You may want to consider referral to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) when the loss has had an extreme impact on the child and their functioning, or when the child is experiencing difficulties after bereavement support

Available Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm.

Contact: 0300 123 6632.