Grief and children. Two words no parent ever wants to put together. If you are wondering how you can help your child cope with grief, Winston’s Wish is our recommended go-to resource.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on children and young people. Not only have an estimated 10,450 been bereaved of a parent, grandparent or caregiver due to Covid-19 (on top of the estimated 41,000 who are bereaved of a parent each year from other causes), but it has created a unique set of circumstances that has complicated grieving.
Lockdowns, school closures, being cut off from support networks and being unable to say goodbye to loved ones has caused many children and young people to bottle up their grief because they simply can’t deal with the painful feelings and emotions while also living through a pandemic.
However, while you might be able to postpone the intense feelings of grief, you cannot permanently avoid them and there will be a coming wave of grief among the young people who have lost a loved one during the pandemic and have been unable to grieve.
Children and young people who are struggling with their grief need help to explore and express their feelings. Childhood bereavement charity Winston’s Wish have created a number of resources, including activities to help you support your child with their grief, which are available to download here: winstonswish.org/pandemic-grief
4 tips for helping a child cope with grief
Talk to them
It sounds simple but one of the main ways you can help your child is to talk to them. You could begin discussions about their feelings, offer clear explanations about what has happened and what may happen. By talking to them you are acknowledging what has happened and their grief and loss, and letting them know that it is ok to talk about it.
With so many people getting ill and dying during the coronavirus pandemic, bereaved children and young people may feel that they are just one among many and that no one is interested in their story. They may have felt that everyone is too busy dealing with homeschooling, lockdowns and other aspects of the pandemic to listen to and support them.
By starting conversations about the bereavement and their grief, you are showing them that they can talk to you and you are there for them.
Many children and young people are worried about talking about their feelings of grief or mentioning the person who has died because they think it will upset their friends and family, so they may avoid talking about it. By talking about how you feel and not hiding when you are upset, while also reassuring them that it’s not their fault that you are upset, you can show them that it’s ok to express their feelings.
Bereaved children and young people may also worry about the future – maybe you can’t afford the mortgage now and will have to move home, or they might worry that another family member will become ill. These worries may be more acute with the impact of the pandemic. Reassure them about the future as much as you can and let them know that they can talk to you. Winston’s Wish has a brilliant Worry Dolls activity, which is another way children and young people can reduce their anxieties.
Help them to explore and express their feelings and thoughts
For some children and young people, the death of someone important is just too big and the feelings of grief are just too painful to deal with. So, they may build up walls around their grief to stop themselves from feeling that overwhelming pain. Others may feel that by locking up their feelings they can keep their grief under control, but if they let their guard down and begin to talk about their emotions they won’t be able to control their grief anymore.
However, you can’t postpone these painful feelings forever and they may come out in other ways. Winston’s Wish have a number of activities that can help grieving children and young people to express their emotions including:
- Creating a mental health First Aid Kit
- Fizzy Feelings activity to show what happens if you don’t let out your feelings
- Worry Dolls to share your anxieties
- Ideas for ways to express your feelings through music, creativity and writing
Find ways to remember the person who has died
Many children and young people can worry about upsetting others by talking about the person who died. They may also have had a complicated relationship with that person or have painful memories surrounding their death. For those reasons, it can be really helpful to find ways to remember their important person and also ways to mark special days such as their birthday or anniversary of their death.
Download the activity sheets for some brilliant aids on helping your child cope with grief.
Things to create:
- A Memory Box to keep treasured items
- A Memory Jar to help them remember important things about that person
- A Life Quiz so they learn more about the person who died
- A Calendar of Memories including important dates during the year
If needed, help them find specialist bereavement support
Sometimes a child or young person will need more specialist bereavement support. Winston’s Wish have an expert Helpline with a trained team on hand to offer immediate advice, guidance and resources to families and professionals who are supporting bereaved children. For those who need more support, their Bereavement Support Practitioners can provide bespoke individual and family support for children and young people up to the age of 25. They also run monthly online Grief Support Groups so bereaved young people can meet others with similar experiences.