Bereavement and Loss

April 28, 2008 – 8:54 pm

Children’s reaction to bereavement can vary enormously. Pre-school children find it hard to comprehend that a loved person or pet that has died won’t come back again and tend to see death as only temporary. As a result of this, they may seem to ‘get over’ the loss very quickly and appear to be acting normally.

Young Children

Between the ages of five and nine years, a child can grasp the idea that death is irreversible but will have more difficulty in understanding their own feelings about this. They may show their distress by being unusually aggressive, having nightmares, refusing to go to bed and wanting constant reassurance and cuddles. In their behaviour, they may regress by several years.


Older children experience loss in similar ways to adults, with strong feelings of sadness and anger. Teenagers may try to bottle up their feelings and become withdrawn or surly. They may be reluctant to go to school, feeling embarrassed about how others will treat them or react towards them.

What should children be told?

In the past, children were rarely seen at funerals – even of close family members – as it was seen as inappropriate to expose them to such a sad experience. We now know that children need to be allowed to grieve and that attending a funeral can help them to be more accepting of the loss.

Goodbye Ceremony

If they choose not to go to the funeral, or if they are grieving for a lost pet, suggest a private Goodbye Ceremony by writing a letter, saying a prayer or lighting a candle. A special ‘memorial’ plant or tree in the garden can also provide a focus for feelings.

It may be tempting to shield a child by telling them as little about the circumstances of the death as possible, but there is a risk that others will tell them what you do not. Try not to lie and tell them what you feel they need to know in language they understand.

How to reassure a child

Children often feel responsible for a person’s death, feeling guilty and afraid that their bad behaviour caused the loss. Reassure them that nothing they ever said, or did or thought, could have resulted in someone dying. Children often find it difficult to remember what the person looked like. Show them that this is normal and give them a photograph to treasure. Having a Memory Box with items that belonged to their loved one, or remind them of that person or their pet can be a great source of comfort.

Other Fears

Once the loss of a loved one has been experienced, children begin to fear that other close people might die and are afraid of what might happen to them if they do. If you suspect this is happening, make a list of all the people who love the child and will care for him/her so that s/he feels safe and secure.

Counselling can provide an opportunity for the child to express their grief without feeling that they are burdening their family at what may be a distressing time for all. Counselling for children is available at our Therapy Centre on the Kent/ Sussex border. For those in other areas, contact your Doctor or your child’s school to see if they offer a counselling service or can advise you of services available in your area.

  1. 2 Responses to “Bereavement and Loss”

  2. If there has been a death in the family, Christmas is one of the most significant days of the year when the person who has died will be missed. If your child is distressed by bereavement, it can help to encourage them to light a candle for their loved one on Christmas Day or make a Christmas decoration with their name or a photograph on it and hang that on the Christmas tree.

    By Sue Twort on Nov 30, 2009


    We are pleased to promote this illustrated book written by Anna Roberts:

    I am writing to ask whether you would consider putting up details of “The Good Mother Mouse” on your page. It is a book which I wrote and illustrated for my family in memory of my grandmother when we lost her earlier in the year. I have two children aged 6 and 8, and the book really helped them to understand the sadness they saw me going through and in turn has helped them to understand a little about death. We decided we would like to try and do something positive and good with the book and so now I have had a quantity printed and am selling them to raise money for a children’s cancer charity and hospital called The Mahak Society. I have given the book as a free PDF file to various hospices and bereavement charities and would like to also offer it to you in the same way. They in turn have made people aware that should they wish to purchase a copy for themselves or as gift, it can be ordered in paperback from me. Child Bereavement UK and Winston’s Wish together with other childhood bereavement charities are helping to spread the word, and I hope you may also be able to do so. If you would like to read the story, just type in The Good Mother Mouse and you can view a pdf version on the St Peter’s Hospice website.

    By Sue Twort on Dec 13, 2012

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