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Bereavement  In Children

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

We all experience grief at some stage in our lives and for many, it is the first time that they experience grief, we are learning how to cope with a new emotion. It has been said that "Grief is the cost of love"

Breffni McGuinness Profile:
Breffni is the Training Officer with the Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF) and provides training on loss and grief to companies and organizations.
His background is in pastoral care and psychotherapy with special
interests in bereavement and drama. Breffni lectures on the IHF's
postgraduate courses on Bereavement Studies, the pastoral department of Milltown Institute and the Dublin City University School of Nursing and Psycho-Oncology course.

Breffni was the author of a bereavement policy resource for companies and organisations that were released recently. His background is in pastoral care and psychotherapy, with special interests in bereavement and drama.  Breffni lectures on the IHF's postgraduate courses on Bereavement Studies, the pastoral department of Milltown Institute and the Dublin City University School of Nursing and Psycho-Oncology course.

It is important to remember that Everyone's loss is different and everyone's grief is different.

Breffni will talk about how to cope with the following aspects of grief:

When the child is bereaved i.e. when a loved one/parent / sibling of a child dies

. How children grieve
. The importance of explaining things to them in an age appropriate way 
0 - 5 years
6 - 12 years
13- 18 years

When a child is bereaved - Written by the Irish Hospice Foundation by Ros McCarthy, Senior Social worker, Barnardos Child Bereavement Service:-

'I knew my Man wasn't well; she's bee in hospital for the last two weeks. They said she might die someday but I didn't believe it - she's my Mam' (Catherine, age 12)

The death of a parent or sibling is a very painful experience for children.

How children grieve will depend on the following factors:-

Child's age/stage of development
Pre-schoolers often think death is reversible. Middle school children begin to realise that death happens to everyone but may worry that the dead person can still feel or think. Adolescents of course are aware that death is an inevitable part of life.

The family's way of grieving
Because grief is a family affair, children are influenced by how others are grieving in the family. Some families talk openly and show emotions. Others think this is unwise or don't feel able to grieve in front of the child. Relationship with the deceased
How important was this person in the child's life? Is there someone to take over the role that person played in his or her life?

The child's own temperament
The child's temperament will affect how they experience the death. Anxious or withdrawn children may find it more difficult to cope with a death than a child who is outgoing and talkative, for example.

Cause of death
In a prolonged or terminal illness, family disruption, distress and hope for remission may have become part of everyday life. While in the case of a sudden death, the child cannot be prepared for what lies ahead. Both types of death being their own difficulties for children.

How to help

Acknowledge anniversaries, birthdays etc and include the child in planning for these.
If appropriate, allow the child to choose a personal keepsake
Encourage the child to talk to you about their sadness, fears and worries.
Share memories of the deceased,  both happy and sad
Reassure the child that it is common to experience a lot of strange and unfamiliar feelings after a death.
Try to keep a predictable routine and encourage the child to keep up with their friends.
Reassure them about your own health status but also talk to them about who would take care of them if you got very sick.
Enlist the support of family and friends and particularly teachers. Talk to your G.P. if your child's behaviour is causing you concern.

A series of information leaflets on aspects of bereavement, written by Irish Social Workers and Psychologists, have been in a bid to support people who have experienced a loss. 

The leaflets are available from the IHF's offices at Morrison Chambers, 32 Nassau Street, Dublin 2.  Telephone: 01-679 31 88.  The leaflets can also be downloaded from the website on