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Helping with bereavement

During a time when our lives have been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic, some of us may have sadly experienced the additional grief of losing a loved one.

Trying to support your child through bereavement can be difficult, especially if you are experiencing grief yourself. What should I say? What happens if I start crying? What if I say the wrong things? Thoughts like these are all normal.

Sadly, as school nurses we’ve recently been talking to grieving parents more. They report that their children often ask questions like “What will you do if I die?’’ “Who will look after me if you die?’’ “Are we all going to die?” Due to their lack of experience of death and emotional development, children often imagine the situation to be far worse than the reality is. Although it may be difficult, it’s important to talk to your child and answer any questions they may have openly and honestly.

Try to encourage your child to talk about their feelings. Talk to them about how you are feeling as well. Don’t try to put on a brave face if this is not how you feel because your child may try and copy this. Your child may be trying to hide their feelings to protect you; explain to them that they don’t need to do this and encourage them to talk about how they truly feel rather than bottling things up to spare your feelings.

And yes …it’s ok to cry or say ‘’I don’t know’’.

Try to talk about the person who has died. Children should be able to feel comfortable saying their name and talking about them. Let them share their memories and share yours with them as well. Making a memory box is a nice activity you could do together. Include things like photos, drawings, memories written on a card: anything that makes the child feel connected to that person.

Normal life for your family will no doubt have been turned upside down as you navigate yourselves through the grief and chaos that bereavement causes. Try as much as possible to keep to the routines that were in place before. Keeping the structure of the day such as mealtimes and bedtimes the same will provide your child with some stability and can help them feel more secure. If your child wants to return to school (if that is available and their routine) let them, returning to normality will help your child progress through their grief. Remember to let the school know about your bereavement so they can also offer their support in school.

Children react to grief differently. Your child may feel angry and frustrated by their loss or may show signs of aggressive behavior. If they become violent to themselves or others, reassure them but let them know that it is still unacceptable to take this out on themselves or others. As parents you can support your child by ensuring boundaries are still in place as this will help them feel more secure.

Regressive behavior such as playing with old childhood toys, using baby talk, or bedwetting usually pass with your love and support. If bedwetting becomes a long-term concern you could contact the school nursing service for support or visit our support and advice pages for further advice.

Let your child decide if they would like to attend the funeral (depending on restrictions). Children have a need to say goodbye as much as adults do.

Remember to be kind to yourself and seek support yourself. Take one day at a time. Everyone grieves differently and there is no “right way”. No doubt your own and your child’s emotions will fluctuate as you mourn. Shock, anger, guilt and longing are common feelings. If you’re concerned about your child don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are a number of bereavement charities that offer helplines, email support, and online communities and message boards for children.

These include:

Child Bereavement UK – call 0800 028 8840 Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm

Cruse Bereavement Care – call 0808 808 1677 Monday and Friday, 9.30am to 5pm, and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 9.30am to 8pm, weekends 10- 2pm

Grief Encounter (Supporting bereaved children & young people) – call 0808 802 0111 Monday to Friday, 9am to 9pm, or email

Hope Again  (Support children & young people after death of a parent or sibling) call 0808 808 1677 Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5pm, or email

Daisysdream (supports children and their families who have been affected by the life threatening illness or bereavement of someone close to them) 0118 934 2604

About the author

Julia Lamming is a Professional Development Lead, School Nursing