Supporting children who have experienced grief and loss

Losing someone close is always a difficult experience at any age but experiencing grief as a child can be particularly complicated.  So many difficult emotions can arise and it can feel very overwhelming and hard to navigate.

What kind of reactions might we see in children who have experienced grief or loss?

There are a wide range of reactions that we might see and all of these will be very individual; grief is not the same for everyone.  Some children may appear to not react at all, especially if they are under six years old, as it can be hard for them to process or realize that death is permanent.  They may also find it hard to stay with their grief, moving in and out of it at different times.

Being very angry at the person who has died or other people is another way that children may try to manage strong emotions, as well as denial or taking a lot of responsibility for other people in the family.

How can we explain grief and loss to young people?

It is important to be honest and use the words dead or death with young people.  Try and share the cause of death in simple terms with the child or young person, so that they have all the information and do not blame themselves. 

Teenagers can be particularly vulnerable, as they often try and solve problems themselves and are not so open to talking to adults.  Schools can be really helpful here for offering support and care, as well as trusted adults that the young person may feel able to communicate with more.

What can be helpful for children and young people to manage their grief?

Being clear in how we communicate and what information we offer is key.  Allowing and acknowledging any emotions that come up is key and can help provide a safe space for the child.  Sometimes young people can find it hard to just talk about the things that they find difficult, so finding creative ways to allow for some connection can be really helpful.

Consider activities and support such as:

  • Making a memory box with the young person to help them remember the loved one and to store treasured keepsakes.
  • Creating a memory bracelet or necklace using coloured beads to represent different memories with the person the child has lost.
  • Writing letters or painting/drawing pictures to the person who has died – what would the child/young person like to tell them?
  • Marking important anniversaries with special events, such a lighting candles or going for a walk to a momentous place.
  • Helping the child or young person to identify traits or qualities they have inherited from the person they have lost (either genetically or through time spent with the loved one).
  • have an activity picker that can be created online.
  • Books such as “Goodbye Mog” and “Badger’s parting gifts” can be helpful for young children to make sense of loss.  There are also book lists recommended on charity sites such as Jeremiah’s Journey.
  • Finding an outlet for feelings and supporting this, such as a favourite activity or new hobby. It is important to give time to the child’s feelings and accept any emotion that they express without shutting them down.
  • Consider charities that support different types of loss.  Suicide can be very different to illness and there may be some charities that specialse in this and can offer support.
  • Think about liaising with schools around support for the child or young person to return to their normal routines.  There may need to be adaptations around offering them more choice or control, managing routines and offering a safe space for them within the school.
  • Consider seeking support from a trained therapist or counsellor to provide the child or young person with a safe space to explore difficult feelings; art or play therapy can be useful if children find it challenging to talk openly. Further information about our therapy services for children and young people can be found here.

Final thoughts

Be mindful that grief is complicated and can take time to process.

Open lines of communication in as many different ways as possible.

Look after yourself and your own emotions. Find some time to process how you feel, if this is relevant and support yourself in whatever way feels OK for you.

Engage with schools or other external agencies if necessary.  Young people sometimes have adults outside of the family that they feel able to talk to or feel supported by.


There are many resources available for supporting grief in young people.  A few are included below.

Children’s Bereavement Charity in Plymouth, UKJeremiahs Journey

Home – Pete’s Dragons (


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