How to help a child through grief – be honest and don’t be afraid to cry

Dealing with the death of a loved one is extremely difficult at the best of times — but trying to navigate your own complex feelings while also helping a child process theirs can be unimaginably challenging.

Unfortunately, childhood bereavement is incredibly common – a survey of 11- to 16-year-olds found that 78% had been bereft of a close relative or friend, and the Childhood Bereavement Network suggests that around 26,900 parents die in the UK each year, with abandonment of dependent children.

When a child loses a parent, sibling, or even grandparent, it can be very difficult for them — but being honest about their death is important, rather than trying to ignore it, says Jane Elfer, a child and adolescent psychotherapist.

And that includes taking care of yourself. “It is important that the person supporting the child or young person feels supported themselves,” she says.

“It can be very difficult to deal with a child’s tears or anger when you feel vulnerable yourself. Give yourself time, allow yourself to cry if you need to, and make sure you too have someone to talk to: a friend, a partner, a sibling, or parents.”

Here, Elfer — who is a spokesperson for the Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP) — shares her tips for supporting little ones and teens after a loss.

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