How can we support bereaved children?


Simon Wright

Simon Wright is chief executive officer of Nelson’s Journey, a Norfolk charity that provides support for bereaved children and young people. He has written the below advice to support bereaved children throughout the coronavirus outbreak:

Children and young people are understandably anxious. News reports are dominated by coronavirus, speculating huge numbers of infections and many resulting deaths. And as social distancing measures get more extreme, children’s support networks become ever more difficult for them to access.

Those children who’ve experienced the death of a significant person are particularly likely to fear that another loved one will die if they get ill. How can we help those children at this time?

Nelson’s Journey have been supporting bereaved children and young people in Norfolk in a range of situations since 1997. With the emphasis on social distancing, we’ve paused our face-to-face contact to protect our service users and families, as well as our staff and volunteers. Our focus now is on ensuring that our team can safely provide support for families and young people that need it over the phone, and to continue to develop and share resources that can help families.

Our support workers have developed and distributed to schools an online tips and ideas guide to supporting bereaved children with coronavirus anxiety. We’ve shared this with schools and online – with over 35,000 people having seen these tips already on our Facebook page. A number of schools in Norfolk have shared it with families too, and while this resource was prepared specifically for bereaved children, many of the tips included are beneficial for all.

They include:

Focus on what you can control as a family. Help children to write down their worries and discuss what you can do to reduce them. If a child is worried that a relative may contract coronavirus or die, help them to understand what you can do together by following the government’s guidance. Reassure that these measures aren’t forever, but just for now.

Explain to children that a lot of people will recover from coronavirus. Not everybody will die from it.

It may reassure children to speak to their loved ones. Phone calls and video calls will not only show your child that their loved one is OK, but for those who are self–isolating it will cheer them up.

Try to avoid the phrase: “Don’t worry about it.” Instead, try to give accurate, age appropriate information. Of course we don’t want children to worry, but the clearer their understanding is, the less they will need to worry. What they don’t understand, their imagination will create.

Try not to show panic or fear in front of children. They will pick up on the feelings of those they trust most.

Discuss normal everyday and positive things, especially before bedtime. Perhaps read a book so they go to sleep thinking of positive things.

We need to stay at home for all the right reasons, so ask children whether they have ideas to try something new or have fun together at home: trying new arts and crafts, cooking together, playing in the garden, learning musical instruments.

Above all, do nice things for yourselves and for others. This is a very challenging time, and its a chance for children to learn how we can all come together to help each other in a time of need.

Families have already been sharing with us over the last few days how tips such as these are helping at home. One parent told us: “So grateful for this, one of our children has been extremely worried about me as I am the only surviving parent. This is helpful.”

While we at Nelson’s Journey are learning to adapt how we work during such uncertain times, we remain committed to work towards the same vision today as the day we were founded: to ensure that no bereaved child in Norfolk is unsupported in their grief. Our services will change for now, but our cause will not.