Losing someone or something we love and feel close to is extremely difficult and painful. Grief is our natural emotional response to this loss, and it is a process rather than an event.
Your child, as well as you and other family members, may be grieving because of:
- the death of someone in the family, like a parent, grandparent or sibling
- the death of a friend, or someone they knew at school
- the death of someone by suicide
- an illness, such as cancer or dementia, of someone they are close to
- the loss of a relationship, like someone moving away or no longer being a regular part of their life
- the loss or death of a pet
How do young people respond to loss?
Every child and young person will react to, feel and express loss differently, and this will change over time. There is no right or wrong way for a young person to grieve.
Children and young people who have gone through a significant loss can feel:
- physically unwell
- unable to concentrate
- unable to sleep
It’s helpful to remember that it is normal for your child to feel and experience these things after a loss, particularly if they have lost someone they were close to.
How can I help my child?
Talking to your child about loss
- Explain to your child in an age-appropriate way what’s happened, using clear language. We can find it difficult to say ‘died’ or ‘dead’ and might want to use softer expressions such as ‘gone to sleep’ or ‘passed on’. But these expressions can be confusing.
- Let them know that it’s okay to feel however they feel, whether that’s sad, overwhelmed, angry, worried or something else – and that there’s no right or wrong way to grieve.
- Be curious, empathetic and non-judgmental about how they’re feeling, focusing on listening and providing emotional support.
- Reassure them that you love them, they’re not alone and they can talk to you whenever they need to.
- If you’re worried your child may be blaming themselves, reassure them that guilt is a common thing to feel – but that it is in no way their fault or responsibility.
If your child finds it difficult to talk, it might help to start a conversation while doing an activity. You can find our ideas here.
Especially with older children and teenagers, it’s also okay to give them some space when they need it. Sometimes it helps to just sit together quietly, or to offer a hand squeeze or gentle hug.
Here are some other things that can really help:
- Try to keep normal routines going as much as possible to provide a sense of security.
- Reach out to your child’s school to let them know what has happened and ask them what support they can provide.
- Support your child to say goodbye. This could be attending gatherings such as the funeral, or other things like lighting a candle, letting off balloons, saying a prayer or poem or planting a flower or tree.
- Spend quality time with your child to help them feel safe and relaxed. This can give them a break from the grief, even if just for a little while.
- Encourage them to keep doing activities they enjoy. Reassure them that it’s okay to feel happy, and that this does not take away from how much they care about the person they’ve lost.
- Talk about the person who has died or been lost and share your memories together. You might want to create a memory box full of pictures and items that remind them of the person.
- Encourage your child to express how they’re feeling, by writing a letter to you, or to the person they have lost telling them all the things they want to say. They could also keep a diary, draw pictures or write songs or poems.
Young people’s advice for other young people who are grieving
- Take the next step, the next minute, the next day, one at a time
- There is no one way to grieve
- It’s okay to be angry and to express your anger
- There’s no shame in having a big reaction
- It’s okay to feel nothing
- It’s okay not to be okay
- It’s okay to reach out for help
- Don’t feel guilty for having fun
- You’re not alone
Finding professional help
Grief has no set timescale, and it is normal to feel a whole range of emotions after a loss. Sometimes, however, a young person may feel they are struggling to cope over a much longer period of time.
Your child may need professional support if, over a prolonged period, they are:
- feeling depressed or anxious
- withdrawing from family, friends and activities
- struggling to sleep
- refusing to go to school
- turning to less healthy coping mechanisms such as self-harming
- talking regularly about wanting to join the person who has died
- experiencing suicidal thoughts
- acting like a much younger child
- not believing that the person has died
Here are some ways you can find help for you and your child:
If you know that someone close to your child is going to die, pre-bereavement counselling can help them to think and talk about their feelings and worries. Some hospices and other charities offer this service, so speak to the professionals supporting your family to see what’s available.
Emotional support services
Let your child know about the helplines, textlines and online chat services that are available to them, which are listed at the bottom of this page. Speak to your child’s school about what they can provide, such as a teacher they can speak to or a buddying service.
Counselling and therapy
A counsellor or therapist can provide emotional support and help your child to make sense of their feelings. You can access free or subsidised counselling or therapy for your child through a bereavement charity (suggestions at the end of this page), your GP, your child’s school and other local services you might be able to find online. If it’s an affordable option for you, you can also find a private counsellor or therapist using the directories listed at the end of this guide.
Speaking to your GP
If you’re worried about your child’s mental health or wellbeing, you can speak to your GP (with or without your child) about next steps. Together you can discuss whether referral to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and/or an assessment by a mental health specialist is needed.
If you need support with your own grief, or you feel you’re struggling to cope, it’s really important that you get the help you need so you can be there for your child. You can speak to your GP about accessing free counselling or mental health support, or you can find counsellors, bereavement services and support groups listed below.
Where can I find support?
Offers practical support and guidance to bereaved children, their families and professionals.
Online chat service available for young people (1pm - 5pm, Tuesdays & Fridays).
Email: [email protected]
Opening times: 9am - 5pm, Monday - Friday
Offers care, guidance and support for people living with any terminal illness and their families.
If English isn't you or your family's first language, they can provide an interpreter for over 200 different languages.
Free online chat service also available.
Phone: 0800 090 2309
Opening times: 8am - 6pm, Monday - Friday; 11am - 5pm, Saturdays; 10am - 4pm, bank holidays
If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.
Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.
Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.
Phone: 0800 1111
Opening times: 9am - midnight, 365 days a year
YoungMinds Crisis Messenger
Provides free, 24/7 text support for young people across the UK experiencing a mental health crisis.
All texts are answered by trained volunteers, with support from experienced clinical supervisors.
Texts are free from EE, O2, Vodafone, 3, Virgin Mobile, BT Mobile, GiffGaff, Tesco Mobile and Telecom Plus.
Texts can be anonymous, but if the volunteer believes you are at immediate risk of harm, they may share your details with people who can provide support.
Text: YM to 85258
Opening times: 24/7