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Supporting children through bereavement

Dear Parents and Carers,

 

You will be aware from my previous post of the tragic loss of one of our staff members, Mrs Kilty.

 

I am sure that this has been upsetting news for many of you. Furthermore, it may well be the case that other families in our community are experiencing similar events.

School Improvement Liverpool have shared the following advice, some of you may find it useful in supporting children at this very difficult time: 

 

Information for children and families during Covid-19

A note to those supporting bereaved children and young people

A bereavement is a difficult time for adults and children. We know that there may be many families affected in the weeks and months to come across our city and our school communities. We know that family members, colleagues, friends, and children make get ill and people will be frightened and need support. We are sharing this resource containing information and signposting to resources in the event of a death/s within the school community.

 

Most grieving pupils do not need a ‘bereavement expert’, but instead support from familiar adults in a safe and secure environment. Familiar and trusted adults can support bereaved children and young people by simply:

• Acknowledging the bereavement

• Understand that feelings of grief are natural, and personal to the individual

• Reassuring children and young people

• Keeping to routines and structure where possible, to help provide a sense of safety and security

It is hoped that this information will help families and schools to feel enabled and empowered to support bereaved children and young people.

 

Supporting bereaved children through difficult times

 

Frightening events widely reported in the media, such as the coronavirus pandemic, can cause children to worry about themselves and others. It is normal for children to feel unsettled when something scary is happening or has happened, and many will be upset, sad or fearful at times. Children who have been bereaved are likely to show a stronger reaction and may worry that they or someone they know will die.

 

Here are some tips to help you support a bereaved child:

 

Talk

 

Children and young people often find it helpful if they can talk about what is happening, helping them to make sense of events and feel less afraid. Even young children are likely to hear reports in the media or overhear adults talking about deaths due to coronavirus , or the risk of death from becoming ill with the virus. It’s important to talk about their fears or anxieties honestly and openly in age-appropriate language. It may also help to restrict the amount of media they are exposed to, and balance this with other activities and positive things to focus on.

 

Be honest

 

Give children honest factual information in language appropriate to their age and level of understanding and be guided by their questions. Children tend to pick up when questions are avoided and then may imagine all kinds of things, causing further anxiety. It’s not necessary to go into detail but it will be helpful to explain things that affect them directly, such as why they are being asked to wash their hands regularly and how the virus is spread, why their school is closed, why they can’t visit a grandparent or why a parent is working from home.

 

Acknowledge concerns

 

Bereaved children may be concerned about someone that they know becoming ill or even dying. Explain that some people will have no symptoms and will be fine, most people will experience only a mild form of the virus and will get better but some people are more vulnerable and so we need to make sure they are protected. Be honest though and don’t shy away from explaining that some people may die, as children need to trust that you are being honest and open with them, so that they can ask you other questions with confidence.

 

Create routines

 

Currently, keeping to usual, daily routines might be difficult. But routines can be reassuring to children when everything else seems to be disrupted. If you are at home with your child, try to keep to regular routines such as meal times, school work, breaks, play and bedtime.

Children feel more in control, and therefore less fearful, if given simple clear jobs to do, such as washing their hands properly, or simple jobs around the house.

 

Get support

 

If you are struggling with your own reactions, try to get support for yourself. Children and young people are quick to pick up on the distress of others around them, even if the adults are trying to hide their feelings.

 

Children and young people’s understanding of death

 

Children and young people mature and develop at different rates, however, their understanding and responses to bereavement are likely based on their development and maturity , as much as their personal life experiences. As children grow and develop:

  • They may need to look again at the details surrounding a death and will need time and space to explore its impact.
  • Feelings they had when younger will be different, as their understanding develops and the meaning of death changes for them as they move through life.

Children’s understanding of death vary based on their stages of development. It is also important to note that children do not move abruptly from one stage of development to the next, and that characteristics from each stage may overlap. At any age, one’s reaction to death is very personal and unique. We should always allow others to grieve in their own way, and avoid assuming we know how a bereaved person is feeling.

 

Children under 2 are not likely to have a conceptual understanding of death, but are likely to react to changes in their environment. Some of the common behaviours that might be seen in children under 2 are:

 

  • Increased crying
  • Withdrawal
  • Disrupted sleep or feeding

 

How to help:

  • Reassure children
  •  Keeping to routines and structure where possible

 

Between the ages of 2 and 5, children can become curious about death, they might begin to use the word ‘dead’, and develop an awareness that this is different to being alive. However, they do not grasp that death is permanent, and can often think the person will return. Try to avoid phrases implying death, such as, “passed away” or “lost” to help avoid confusion or misunderstanding. Children at this age are naturally egocentric, and see themselves as the cause of events around the world. They may feel guilty and believe that they are responsible for the death of a loved one. They might also worry about being abandoned, or worry who might take care of them. At this age, children struggle to put their feelings into words, and will tend to react to loss through behaviours, such as:

 

  • Physical symptoms, for example an altered appetite or disrupted sleep
  • Separation anxiety
  • Irritability or aggression
  • Seemingly disinterested in play
  • Language and toilet training may regress
  • Repeat questions frequently

How to help:

  • Show patience and tolerance
  • Give honest answers, but do not feel you have to tell them everything in detail. Sometimes it can be helpful to give them bits of information that can accumulate over time—not everything at once.

 

Primary school age (between the ages of 5 - 12), begin to develop a sense that death is permanent, and irreversible. As they become more aware of this, and become aware that death is a natural part of all living things, they may become anxious about their safety, or the safety of those close to them. Children may experience a range of emotions (guilt, anger, shame, anxiety, sadness, worry about their own death), and react through behaviours such as:

  • School phobia or poor school performance
  • Physical symptoms or regression
  • Becoming withdrawn from friends
  • Aggression
  • Worrying who will take care of them, and becoming ‘clingy’
  • Worrying that they are to blame for the death

 

How to help:

  • Reassure children that the death is not their fault
  • Provide opportunities to explore their feelings, and be able to ask questions frequently or repeatedly
  • Provide honest answers that can be built on over time

 

Young people and adolescents are entering a time of great change. They are moving towards more independent adult lives, and developing their own ideas about who they are. Young people will have an adult’s understanding of death, but may have not yet had the experiences to develop coping skills or behaviours as an adult. Developmental issues of independence and separation from parents can interfere with the ability to receive support from adult family members. Young people don’t like to feel different to their friends, and being bereaved, may lead to feelings of isolation. Everyone will respond differently, but some behaviours that you might see among young people include:

 

  • Becoming withdrawn
  • Engaging in risk-taking behaviours
  • Feeling a need to take responsibility for the caring of others around them
  • Seeking support from their peers, rather than a family member

 

How to help:

  • Ensure that teenagers have a chance to be teenagers, and not take on adult responsibilities where possible
  • Some young people may benefit from speaking to other young people who have been bereaved
  • Try to maintain regular boundaries for acceptable behaviour to help provide a sense of security and reassurance

 

During Covid-19, children and young people may experience heightened levels of anxiety, in relation to the situation or the safety of loved one. Please see the resource:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-on-supporting-children-and-young-peoples-mental-health-and-wellbeing.

 

Coronavirus: grieving and isolation

  • Being bereaved can be an extremely lonely time. Talking with friends and family can be one of the most helpful ways to cope after someone close to us dies. Normal advice is usually to avoid isolating yourself, but we are in a situation where increasing numbers of people are being told to self-isolate and cut all but essential physical contact with others. 
  • This could make feelings of loneliness and grief more intense. It could mean a bereaved person having to stay by themselves in the same house they shared with the person who has died, bringing up painful reminders at every turn. A bereaved family might be isolated together, and although this at times may be a support, at other times tensions and resentments could be magnified making it difficult for them to help each other. If children and teenagers are isolated it could be difficult for carers to keep them occupied and deal with their own emotions and fears. The impact of dealing with a bereavement, compounded with feelings of worry about external situations can mean that feelings of grief aren’t fully expressed.
  • Isolation can also make it harder to process grief. At times like this when there is a constant stream of new and distressing information, people can find themselves distracted from dealing with their grief. They could be worrying about the situation as a whole, or worrying about themselves or others.
  • Practical concerns and considerations may also come up. The person who died may have been a partner, parent or carer and the bereaved person may be left without practical or emotional support at a time they need it most. Friends and relatives who might otherwise have been able to provide practical support, e.g. help with meals and shopping may also be isolating or preoccupied with their own family’s situation.
  • It is very common to see, hear or feel the presence of someone who has died. This can be more common in the case of traumatic bereavement, and if someone is isolated in a location where they saw the person die, or where they are constantly reminded of their illness

Top tips to help at this time

  • Keep regular contact with others via telephone or social media
  • Look after yourself and get rest
  • Seek practical help from friends, family and neighbours
  • Don’t feel guilty if you are struggling
  • Reach out if you know someone else is struggling

 

Local support

Liverpool Bereavement Service

Their Oakleaf service is dedicated to helping children, young people and families during the difficult process of grief and loss. They provide bereavement support and counselling to children and young people aged 4 to 18 to help them cope with their loss and to promote the health and well-being of each individual.

 

Contact: 0151 236 3932

http://liverpoolbereavement.com/

 

National support

 

  • Child Bereavement UK

The website provides useful links and resources for children, families and professionals to access.

 

https://www.childbereavementuk.org/

 

  • Cruse Bereavement Care

Free helpline 08088081677 has lots of specific information relating to Coronovirus

 

  • Winston’s Wish UK

 

Winston’s Wish offers a wide range of practical support and guidance to bereaved children, their families and professionals who support them. The charity also provides a Freephone National Helpline (08088 020 021), for teachers or parents to call for information and advice about how to support bereaved children and young people.

 

http://www.winstonswish.org

 

  • ChildLine

 

A free and confidential services for children and young people where you can talk about anything, including bereavement.

https://www.childline.org.uk/

 

  • Young Minds

 

A national charity for children and young people to support their mental health and well being.

 

https://youngminds.org.uk/about-us/

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