Children who have lost a parent, grandparent or other close member of their family as a result of cancer often experience particular problems and can benefit from specialist help. It is important to remember that children do grieve, and that everyone grieves differently. Also, cultural traditions, religious beliefs and family experience will all influence the way children grieve.
At Cancer Connections we have specially trained staff who are able to help children when someone close to them is very ill with cancer or has died.
We will offer an initial home visit or appointment at Cancer Connections when the parent or family will have the opportunity to meet and speak with one of our family-friendly specialist staff. Advice and ongoing support is available to help the parent talk with their child about what is happening.
If you would like more information about this service please telephone 0191 456 5081 or come to Cancer Connections at 258 Harton Lane, South Shields.
We are open Monday to Friday 9am - 5pm.
We are happy to receive referrals from parents, carers, teachers or health care professionals. Young people over 16 can contact us themselves.
In the meantime you may find the following helpful.
Remember that children do grieve. Everyone grieves differently. Cultural traditions, religious beliefs and family experience will all influence the way we grieve.
If you are concerned about your bereaved child or not sure whether help is needed, we suggest you ask someone like your GP or Health Visitor.
Here are some ways to help bereaved children:
Involve and include children and give them information appropriate for their age.
Tell them what is happening as it happens; they will learn about grief and how to share their own feelings.
Give them choices. For instance give them the chance to say ‘goodbye’ in a way they decide. If they want to go to the funeral tell them what it will be like. Share your feelings with your children, so they know that it is OK to have all kinds of feelings, to cry and be upset. (‘It is normal to feel sad and upset when someone we love has died; I feel like that too’).
Children need to see that it is OK to cry, to feel sad, or angry, and to grieve. So, avoid hiding your own grief for fear of upsetting them
Provide lots of reassurance that it doesn’t mean others will die (‘Your Dad was young when he died. That’s unusual but it doesn’t mean that anyone else in the family will die. Most people live to be old’ ).
They will not feel like this for ever (‘We all feel sad and we miss Mum so much. We will never forget Mum but it will not always feel this hard’).
You can continue to have good times as a family and enjoy happy memories. Explain that, even when a death is recent, it is still OK to laugh and have fun. Children need a ‘rest’ from grieving at times and, if they are laughing and enjoying themselves, it does not mean that they are being uncaring or disrespectful. It does not mean they have stopped grieving.
Maintain routines as much as possible. Some changes will be inevitable and these can be acknowledged (‘I know we will really miss going to Nan’s each Sunday as we always did before, but instead we can do something special to remember her’). However, children will also need to be reassured that not everything will change and that many familiar routines will continue. For example, they will still attend scouts every week, meals will continue at regular times, and so on.
Be consistent by keeping the same rules as before in so far as possible. It may be tempting to ease up on the rules (later bedtimes, for instance) because your children have been bereaved but maintaining boundaries helps the child to feel there is still order and stability. This helps them to feel secure and know that not everything in their life has changed.
Help children to develop strategies for dealing with their grief. They will benefit from being able to talk through how they might respond and behave in certain situations, for example when they are ready to return to school (‘What would you like me to do about school?’ or ‘Before you go back to school would you like me to ask your teacher to tell your classmates that Dad has died?’ or ‘Let’s think about who you can go to if you feel upset in class’.)
Arrange to make sure you speak to someone responsible at school.
Help them to remember the person who has died. They may worry that they will forget. Here are some ways to keep memories alive:
- A photograph in their bedroom or in their pocket or school bag.
- A memory box (‘Shall we put together a special box for you to safely keep photos of your sister and things that remind you of her?.)
- A memory book to write things about the person who has died, what they liked or did not like and stories that the child or other people remember about them.
- Talk about the person who has died (‘Do you remember the time Dad …’ or ‘Mam used to love seeing you in the school play, think how proud she would have been to see your performance today’). This shows the child that it is all right to talk.
- Special days like anniversaries, birthdays, mother’s day or father’s day, or holidays will stir up memories. At these times it can be helpful to especially remember the person who has died. Encourage children to think of something special to do; it could become a family tradition (‘It will be Grandad’s anniversary next month; we can do something special to remember him.’)
Be aware that not all children want to talk but that does not mean they are not grieving. If they are very young they won’t have the words to say how they feel. Some express their grief through play or drawing or creative activities.
Some children may act older or younger than their age for a while.
Grief looks different at different ages. A pre-school child’s grief is not the same as a school age child, and a teenager’s experience is different again.
Children who have been bereaved may feel different from their friends who have not lost a loved one before.