Parents and carers
Being a parent or carer of a bereaved child often means that you have lost someone you love too. Below is some information which other parents have found helpful.
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“When you are suffering a tragic loss yourself it's hard to know if you're doing everything right for your children. SeeSaw made me feel that I was in every way.”
- You are affected both emotionally and physically by the death of someone you love.
- You suddenly feel overwhelmed when you realise that you are alone with sole responsibility for the wellbeing of your child.
- You don’t get the expected tears of grief from your child – grief shows itself in many other forms – often in angry or regressive behaviour or quirky questions which you may find difficult to answer.
- You find that relationships with in-laws change – particularly if your partner died by suicide. Whilst for some families in-laws are a huge source of support, others have found that grief can cause estrangement.
- You find positives in being in sole charge of your child and your life together.
- Honest information - Despite your instinct to protect your child from distressing information, children who are not given honest information about the death of someone they love tell us that they feel angry and excluded, and sad that they were unable to mourn their loss alongside their parents
- Language they can understand – Explanations about the death should be given using language that your child can understand given their age and ability. Check back that they have understood your words and make time for the questions that they need to ask. Avoid statements like “Losing Grandma” or “Daddy is sleeping forever” as these will only confuse young children and perhaps build up anxiety about being lost themselves or fear of going to sleep. You can explain that death and sleep are different – when someone dies this means that they cannot do things as they once did like walking, talking, playing, shopping etc and they cannot feel anything any longer either, so they are not sad, hurting, cold, hungry or ill.
- Choices – Children need your help to understand that grieving for the death of someone they love is normal, and to make choices about what would help them cope best at home and at school. Tell their teacher what has happened to ensure they get the support they need at school.
How children might react
All children will react differently, but there are certain common factors which will tell you that your child is suffering more perhaps than they are able to tell you. Often young children do not have the language to express how they are feeling and so you must let their behaviour be your guide. You know your child and if you find they begin to behave out of character, it may be that they are struggling to understand and come to terms with the loss of someone that they love. Some of the most common reactions to bereavement are:
- Do not understand permanency of death, so show little or no reaction to the news
- May react more to a sense of loss – of someone not being around any more
- May be affected more by changes resulting from how you manage your grief
- Will often search for the missing person and expect them to appear again
- Ask the same questions repeatedly to try and make sense of what has happened
- May have difficulty settling to play, sleep or eat or show brief episodes of sadness
- May regress in behaviours for a while
- May find starting school difficult as they may well feel additionally anxious about leaving you now that someone they love has gone from their lives
Primary School Children
- Begin to understand more about death and its long term implications
- Can only sustain grief for short periods – need opportunities for play
- May feel guilty that something they said or did caused the death
- May show a morbid fascination with the facts about the death
- May be anxious about separating from you in case something happens to you
- May be more prone to minor infections or tummy aches or headaches
- May be restless, unable to concentrate at school
- May be prone to sudden tearful or angry outbursts
- May have difficulty settling at night
Secondary School Children
- Are more able to express their feelings verbally
- Are more likely to dwell on issues of life and death
- May go a bit “wild” to blot out the pain or show signs of depression
- May have difficulty eating or sleeping
- Take time to talk together and remember the person who died. This will help your child to understand what has happened and keep memories alive.
- Seek support for yourself and your child if needed – there is nothing wrong in asking for help when your life has been turned upside down. The children and you may well find it helpful to have someone else to turn to when life gets especially hard.
- Tell teachers the whole story of what happened and keep in touch with them to check on your child’s progress. This ensures appropriate ongoing support is being given.
- Ask your child what would help them if they are old enough to involve them in decisions and plans for your lives together.
- Make an effort to have regular ‘play days’ together or with other children, and do enjoyable activities together. This helps to reduce feelings of isolation and provides opportunities for all of you to put your grief to one side for a while and have some fun.
- Establish ties with extended family to ensure your child knows who will care for them in the event of something happening to you. This helps to reduce their anxiety.
- Try not to get stressed about needing to succeed in all areas of life – take one area at a time and be pleased with what you do well and don’t give yourself a hard time over what goes wrong. This will relieve some of the pressure on you.
- Allow yourself ‘time out’ on your own to relax with friends or family. This will enable you to recharge your batteries to cope with everyday life.
- Learn from other people, books and websites about grief and how children and adults react so that you can better understand what is happening to you and your child. This will give you greater confidence in supporting your child.
- Winston’s Wish: This Cheltenham-based bereavement charity has some helpful practical advice for parents
- Child Bereavement Charity: Helpful advice and parents’ experiences of losing a child.
- Paretlineplus: A focus on how you can help yourself after bereavement
- Directory of support services: The Child Bereavement Network offers a searchable directory of services all over the UK.
- The Way Foundation: social networking for young widows and widowers and their children
- Cruse - Rd4u: the national bereavement charity’s advice on helping young people