Coronavirus: Grief Encounter Service Update
We know that during these challenging times, grief and bereavement will be especially hard. Due to the current government guidelines and NHS advice, all of our face-to-face support services, including all individual and group based work, have been suspended and replaced with a virtual service offering. We have unfortunately also had to suspend Grief Relief Kit mail-outs, as we protect the health and safety of our warehouse staff members.
We know that children, young people and their families will need advice and help more than ever, and so our helpline is open to all and operating its usual hours, 9am – 9pm Monday to Friday. We have increased our qualified and trained team, who are there to listen every day. You can call us free on 0808 802 0111, or log on to our live web chat for confidential support. You can also email us on email@example.com, and we will respond to all of your questions providing appropriate advice and information.
You are not alone. We are here to help you and offer support. We will be updating our advice regularly, and using our social media channels to offer additional support with counsellor led activity suggestions to help parents and carers support their children at home. As always, you can call us for any advice, anytime.
Coronavirus: Supporting bereaved children and young people
Coronavirus is having an impact on everyone; parents, children, young people, carers and professionals.
Children and young people are not at school, college or University and many parents/carers are now not at work. For some young people there is the added anxiety of seeing the adults in their lives having to attend work and putting themselves at risk of the COVID-19 virus. Routines have been lost and our younger members of society are finding themselves and their parents/carers isolated at home with little access to the outside world.
Whilst all children and young people will be experiencing worry throughout these changing times, those who have experienced the death of someone close may have different, more severe anxiety and heightened emotions. They may feel increasingly scared that those closest to them will also die if they become sick with Coronavirus.
When talking to children and young people it’s really important to keep conversations open and honest and create a trusting atmosphere in which they feel safe to talk.
Below are some suggestions for talking to children and young people about Coronavirus:
- Listen - Switch your focus from whatever you are doing and give them your undivided attention.
- Re-assure them that whatever is on their mind, you are there to listen and support them.
- Answer questions in an open, honest and realistic manner, checking what their understanding is first and responding in an age appropriate way.
- Give them a clear understanding of what the virus is and what it means for them in a manageable way. See a clear and simple explanation below.
"COVID-19 is a new type of virus that’s been affecting some people across the world. It’s sometimes called coronavirus, and it can affect people's lungs and airways, but it seems like it has less effect on children and young people. The symptoms are usually a high fever and a cough you haven’t had before. Most people who get COVID-19 or coronavirus will recover fully without ever needing to see their doctor or GP and experts in the UK and across the world are working on treatments and ways to keep everyone safe. We are doing everything we can to make sure we all stays safe and well by following the guidelines i.e. isolating and social distancing."
- Remind them that even if someone close to them becomes ill, help is available and the majority of cases are mild and get better at home.
- Ask them to talk to you if things are getting too hard
Other things you can do to help:
- Encourage and support young people to take a break from watching or reading the news to do something they enjoy
- Ensure you keep to clear routines at home. Eating and sleeping routines help children to feel safe and secure.
- Plan activities so that they know what you are going to be doing during the day.
- Do something creative where they have fun but also express their feelings
- Help them to stay in touch with family and friends in a safe and secure way.
- Ensure you all stay healthy and well, taking appropriate exercise.
Talk to someone:
- Contact Grief Encounter’s free, confidential national helpline on 0808 802 0111.
- We offer a voice, web chat and e-mail service to all ages.
- You can get in touch with us any weekday from 9am – 9pm.
- Our expertly trained and qualified staff team will listen, support and help anyone who has experienced bereavement.
- Our social media channels are also offering tips and advice on getting through the pandemic. With a series of online led therapeutic activities, our team of trauma, play and drama therapists will enable you to support your child through this time.
- Call 0808 802 0111
- Web Chat griefencounter.org.uk
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Telling children and young people someone has died from Coronavirus
Talking to children about the deaths of people they know in relation to Coronavirus.
As the number of deaths continue to grow, children and young people will soon find themselves possibly knowing friends or acquaintances who have experienced the death of someone close to them. This is likely to make children fearful of their own loved ones becoming ill and dying. It’s important to rationalise that fear, but with age appropriate understanding and reassurance.
When talking to a child about the death of someone important, it is vital that this is done by someone who is close to them and who they trust. Tell them as soon as you can and choose a safe and quiet space in which to do so, making sure you will not be disturbed.
Children’s understanding of what death means, varies according to their age and stage of development. Ensure you use language that he or she will understand and use clear and simple words that express the finality of death, such as ‘dead’, ‘death’ and ‘died, rather than ‘gone away’ or ‘lost’ which can sometimes be confusing. Only give as much information as is necessary at the time and remember they will only be able to assimilate a limited amount of information at any given time. Repeat any information they may ask for in a clear and calm way.
Ensure you give them the time and space to process the information you will have just imparted. Do not hide your own emotion from them. It is ok to be sad (or happy) and express your feelings, encouraging them to express their own feelings.
Tell them what might happen next and keep them up to date with any further information you have. It is ok not to have all the answers but to tell them you will find out anything you cannot answer and come back to them.
Re-assure them of your support and make sure they know they can talk to you about their feelings at any time. Try to ensure some routine in their lives, particularly in the weeks following the death as this will feel comforting and safe for them.
Sudden death from Coronavirus
The nature of the virus means that deaths will be unexpected and sudden. Not only this, but isolation means that if a family member is affected, such as a grandparent, children are unable to see them, visit them in a hospital, and most importantly, say goodbye. Family rituals such as funerals and wakes, or other ceremonies post-funeral are also unable to take place as they usually would.
All of these factors make talking to children and young people about Coronavirus harder. Children may feel heightened fear, anger and confusion which needs to be confronted with reassurance, honesty and time.
How to say goodbye when attending a funeral isn’t possible
Current government guidelines and NHS advice mean that family, religious and cultural rituals after the death of a relative are not able to take place. Children and young people who experience the death of a loved in this outbreak may not be able to say goodbye in the traditional way, and will, most likely be unable to attend a funeral.
The prospect of not being able to say goodbye can feel completely overwhelming and it is important to listen to and acknowledge the painful feelings that may surface when a child is unable to say goodbye.
Some things you may want to consider:
Talk to the Funeral Director as they are very caring professionals and will do their best to accommodate your wishes in relation to remembering the person who has died if there is a virtual funeral and helping to include those who cannot attend.
It is still important to explain to the child what a funeral is and explain that whilst it is a way to say goodbye to a loved one, together you will find other ways in which to do this. If there is to be virtual funeral explain some of the things they might see such as the coffin. Explain where the funeral will take place and what will happen. Explain what will happen to the person’s body and the difference between a burial and cremation if appropriate.
You may want to create your own ritual and do something special together to remember the person who has died such as:
- Encourage your child to do a drawing, write a message/poem or choose a special itemthey might like to put into the coffin or have read out at the service.
- If the funeral is a cremation you may be able to let your child know that they will be able to be part of an ashes ceremony some time in a few months.
- Share their stories and photos of your loved one and make time to talk about and remember them.
- Do something creative, for example, create a ‘Memory’ box that a child can decorate and personalise.This is somewhere they can keep any treasured memories and something they can take out and re-visit providing a source of comfort in the days and weeks ahead.
- Set another future date to celebrate the life of the person who has died, perhaps when you might be able to visit the cemetery or a place that was special to them in the months ahead. Plan what this will look like and who you might like to invite to join you.
Make sure you keep the lines of communication open for children and young people and re-assure them that you are there to listen and support them at any time.
Supporting Bereaved Children in the Classroom
As schools start to return, communities are welcoming back children into a school setting who have suffered a bereavement during the pandemic. With the government set restrictions, these bereavements have been experienced in some circumstances without family rituals or extended family support. In this sense, coming back into a school environment may be the first time external support has been available to the child, young person and their family. Here is some advice from our specialist Trauma Team on how to support a grieving child whilst they are at school, informing the school community of a death and preparing classmates for the return of a bereaved child.
Supporting a grieving child or young person at school is a long process, and often becomes more challenging as time goes on. Many children tell us that the second year after their loved one’s death is more difficult than the first year. As the reality of the permanence of the death sinks in and the initial feelings of shock subside, the sense of loss and longing take hold. It is at this time that teachers and others who work with children and young people can be most helpful and supportive.
Supporting a bereaved child in school
There are many triggers in the school environment for the bereaved child, such as aspects of the curriculum, and in particular their ‘successes’ such as winning an award or receiving a certificate for an achievement. Social interaction with peers who ask questions about their family or complain about their own parents/siblings can be hard to manage. Even many years after a bereavement it can be enormously helpful for a caring adult to acknowledge the bittersweet feelings evoked by important milestones and the ongoing nature of grief.
Grieving children may behave in expected ways such as being tearful and withdrawn. However, they can also behave in unexpected ways such as being:
- Distracted, have a short attention span and ‘daydream’ a lot
- Forgetful and absent minded
- Fearful, apprehensive and anxious
- Angry and having sudden outbursts of tears or frustration
- Aggressive and ‘picking fights’
There are some ways to help a grieving child during the school day
- Providing a Time Out Card allows the child to leave the classroom in a discreet way if they are worried about becoming upset or crying on front of their peers. Please contact Grief Encounter who can supply you with our own cards.
- Allow a child to keep a small unobtrusive photo that is a comfort to them, it can be advisable for this to be in a keyring or a case of some kind.
- Allow short phone calls if they need reassurance that others are safe
- Designate a support person for the child such as school nurse, counsellor or SENCO
- Don’t be afraid to talk to the grieving child and ask how they are doing but ensure you do so in an appropriate place and when both you and they have time to properly engage.
- Remember that listening is more important than offering advice or trying to find out what has upset them at a particular time. You cannot fix it for them and children know that but are grateful for the opportunity to be heard.
Informing the School Community of a Death
When there is a death in the school community it can be difficult for Senior Leadership to respond efficiently and proactively when coping with their own shock and emotions. However, news travels fast in school communities, and it is important to manage the information in a timely manner so that it can be communicated in a sensitive and accurate way.
Where possible the staff team should be informed first, ideally in a way that all staff can be told at the same time, perhaps in an online meeting, where questions can be asked and all staff have the same information. Even if staff are already aware of the death it is advisable to hold a group call or video conference to clarify information, and ensure staff are aware of the school position to help avoid rumour and conjecture. Some staff members may need some time to process the information and perhaps seek external advice and support. The Grief Encounter helpline, grieftalk, can be contacted from 9am-9pm Monday- Friday. The grieftalk number is 0808 802 0111.
If a death in the school community has happened, often the year group or class most affected will be informed before the whole school, whether this be by email, video conference or group call – this may be to the students directly, or to their parents. It is advisable for form teachers to be supported by other appropriate staff members. Staff can be fearful of showing emotion but as long as this can be managed for themselves and the students then it can be helpful to model sadness and shock. Try to be honest and direct, sticking to the facts and using age appropriate language, with words such as died and dead.
When a death affects the entire school then informing everyone together is advisable, so that all students have the same information. Once again, be honest and direct, using age appropriate language, sticking to the facts and using clear and concise words such as ‘died’.
Preparing students for the return of a grieving classmate
When a classmate has experienced a death it is usual for children and young people of ages to be anxious about what they should say and how they should treat them. Returning to school will probably carry its only anxieties and class teachers may well themselves feel apprehensive about how to support all the children in their care.
Discuss the bereavement with the class before the student returns. When all children have returned to school, it is advisable to have a class discussion about death and how grief affects different people. Naturally, this should be delivered in an age appropriate way but some points for discussion are:
- Encourage the sharing of feelings, possibly through thinking about other types of losses or deaths that students have experienced and what helped them cope.
- Explore what difficulties the student may experience as they return to school through thinking about how they might like others to treat them. Would they like to be left alone or want to talk about it? The idea that someone is likely to want both at different times or from different people can be introduced.
- Discuss how students might reach out to their classmate. Encourage them to think about this in the context of their friendship before the death. Would they want to offer to talk outside of school hours? Or would it be more appropriate for them to offer to help them with school work?
- Make students aware that their classmate may act differently. They may seem withdrawn and unfriendly or they may be aggressive. They should understand that this is normal and nothing to do with them.
- Be aware that the bereavement may have an impact on other students, stirring up their own feelings of loss and separation. Close friends of the bereaved and his/her family may also need additional support to help them cope with feelings of helplessness or being ‘shut out’.
Grief Encounter are offering online training to schools and professionals, available to book now. Learn more at www.griefencounter.org.uk/onlinetraining
Online Bereavement Training for Professionals: Back after Covid-19
Ways to get help:
Call 0808 802 0111
Web Chat www.griefencounter.org.uk