When talking to a bereaved child, it is important to be as honest and as open as possible and to remember that children grieve in a different way to adults. Everyone grieves in an individual way.
When someone dies, try to avoid saying that they have gone to sleep, gone or passes away. These phrases can lead to confusion as to what has happened or may result in children becoming fearful of falling asleep or seeing other people sleeping. It is best to keep it simple and to say that a person has sadly died.
Encourage them to show their emotions and express their feelings and frequently reassure them that they are still loved. Talk to them about who they can rely on and talk to and explain it is okay to cry and not cry. It is often useful to tell your child that their friend’s death was not their fault in any way.
Follow familiar routines where possible as this can help them feel more secure. It is also important to try and communicate with your child’s nursery, school or childcare setting about what has happened and to discuss what your child has been told. This can help them to understand the best way of supporting your child if they were to become distressed.
Let your child know that it is okay to ask questions and that you will do your best to answer them as best you can. You may find that you need to repeat this information and answer the same questions again over subsequent days and weeks. Being asked the same questions over and over again can be extremely hard, but this is the way that young children try to make sense of what has happened.
One in every 29 children had been bereaved of a parent or a sibling. This equates to around 309,000 school age children across the UK. If your child feels alone, it is important to let them know that there are many other children in a similar situation. They are not alone.
We have produced booklets for children that have lost a brother or sister. They are written in way that they are suitable for younger children, but they will also serve as a talking point for older children too.
My brother has died: a children's guide following the death of a brother.
My sister has died: A children's guide following the death of a sister.
Paper copies can also be ordered free of charge within the UK. They can be ordered here.
If your child or you are struggling, please see your General Practitioner or support worker to find out about the extra support that is available for you locally.
Information resources and support available
If you feel that either you or your child needs more support, here are some useful points of contact.
Child Bereavement UK Helpline 0800 02 888 40
Child Death helpline 0800 282 986 (0808 800 6019 from a mobile)
Childhood Bereavement Network (this is the hub for people supporting bereaved children giving links to national and local sources of support).
Content reviewed February 2021