Children need support to handle bereavement
Alison Penny, co-ordinator, Child Bereavement
Tuesday 17 March 2009
Recent media coverage has focused attention on
the needs of children in families where someone has died or is
dying. The internet is alive with discussions about the ethics and
practicalities of explaining death to children.
Some adults think it's best to say nothing, particularly when
children are very young. However, evidence shows that even those
who are too young to understand what death means will mourn the
loss of someone close. They might not be able to say how they feel,
but changes in their behaviour such as bedwetting, crying or
regressing can indicate their distress and anxiety.
Bereavement can provoke worries and raise questions for a child
such as: What happens when someone dies? Was it my fault? Who will
look after me? Will other people die too? Research shows children
do better when someone listens to them carefully and reassures
them. Simple, honest information given at a child's pace can help
them understand what has happened and what might happen next.
Clear, concrete language helps, rather than euphemisms such as
"she's gone to sleep" or "we've lost him", which can often confuse
children. But these are difficult conversations for adults to
manage when grieving themselves. Specialist childhood bereavement
services offer resources to help parents, carers and professionals
working with bereaved children.
They can help adults rehearse difficult conversations that might
come up and suggest books to tackle these themes, as well as
provide reassurance on the wide range of reactions children can
show. Death is a difficult subject, and one which we might prefer
to avoid. But every day children across the country are affected by
a death in their family or community.
Acknowledging their experiences and talking honestly can help
them manage the impact of death on their lives.