Adults often think that children are naturally resilient and that they can bounce back from upsetting things, or that maybe they are less affected than adults when they grieve. However, the resilience of a child can depend on a number of things including their self-esteem, how they feel about themselves, what they can do well, and who and what they can rely on.

Building resilience is especially important for bereaved children. Nothing can take away the sadness when someone important to them dies. However it is possible to support children to feel good about themselves and to help them to find ways to manage any worries and uncertainties that come with the huge change in their life that bereavement brings.

How can I help build resilience in a bereaved child?

Provide reassurance

At the Family Group we did the Tree of Life Activity. We have it on our wall at home. It tells me I’ve got different people in my life that I can talk to if I feel sad.

Shaneeka, whose mother died when Shaneeka was four

Let your child know that they are loved. Tell them why they are special to you.

Some children, especially young children, sometimes think that something they thought, said or did may have caused their special person to die. In this situation, reassure them that they are not to blame for their special person dying. 

Explain to your child who will care for them and who is there for them to rely on. If their special person who died was involved in their activities, for example taking them to football or dance class, keep your child involved in changes and any new plans. 

It can be comforting for a child to think about and write down/draw all the people who are there for them who they can rely on for support. Our resource activities for grieving children and young people offers some creative ideas you may find helpful.

Give clear, consistent and honest messages

Explain to your child who is there for them if they want to talk or ask questions, or even if they just need a hug. If they have any questions, answer them honestly in language that’s appropriate to their age and understanding of death

Keep to routines if possible

Familiar routines increase a child’s feelings of security and a sense of continuity that they can rely on when their life can otherwise feel out of control. If you need to go out, let your child know when you will be back and who will be looking after them.

Encourage thoughts and feelings

Let your child know that a range of different feelings is normal and, for instance, that it’s OK to express anger, as long as it’s in a way that doesn’t harm them or anyone else. Acknowledge any difficult feelings or worries and find ways to help manage these such as doing something creative, getting outside or exercising. Our A-Z of bereavement support tips from young people may give you and your child some ideas.

Adolescents may prefer to talk more to their friends than to their family, and this is an important source of support, alongside a trusted adult who is there for them. Try not to pressure your teenager into talking to you if they don’t want to, but let them know that you are always there for them.

You may also find it helpful to watch our short animated films: Volcano aims to help children and young people cope with difficult feelings like anger, worry and guilt; and The Invisible Suitcase is designed to help bereaved children and their families to understand grief and how to manage it.

Make memories

Making memories can help a child feel connected to their person who has died. Find ways to help them remember and to make and maintain memories. Our short animated film, Remembering someone special who has died, has some suggestions and you may also find our activities for bereaved children helpful

Involve children and listen to their views

Ask your child what they think and listen to their point of view about things that affect them. Where it’s appropriate, involve them in decision making, as this can help them feel more in control of what is happening. This can be particularly helpful when a child is coping with big changes to their life such as changing schools or moving to a new home.

Encourage them to enjoy helping other people, without expecting them to take on adult responsibilities or telling them they need to be ‘brave’ or to ‘look after’ others now.

Involve other people who support your child

It can be helpful to tell your child’s school or anyone else involved in their care about any additional support they might need or things they might find difficult such as birthdays, anniversaries or special occasions such as Mother’s or Father’s Day.

Encourage older young people to speak to their teacher, or tutor or student support services if they are bereaved and at university or college.

In a similar way, involve any leaders of clubs or community groups that your child goes to.

Praise and encourage your child

Show your child that you believe in them and praise them for what they do, acknowledging when they have managed things that are difficult for them. Encourage them to be independent in a way that’s appropriate to their age, while still being there for them.

Understand that bereavement affects what children can cope with

Bereaved children (and adults) may struggle with things that they would usually take in their stride, such as falling out with a friend. Even a small change is likely to be more of a challenge for a bereaved child who is already facing lots of change in their life.

Keep normal, clear boundaries around their behaviour, as this helps children to feel secure. Recognise that it is OK for them to still be children, to laugh, play and have fun, as well as to have time to be sad and to grieve.

Younger children can find it difficult to cope with sad feelings for too long and can ‘puddle jump’, appearing to move in and out of their grief, a bit like they’re jumping in and out of a puddle. Watch our film, Puddle Jumping for more information. 

Older children may find it helpful to look at our A-Z of bereavement support tips from other young people we have supported.

Encourage hopes for the future

Help children to see that changes are part of life and that it is important that they look after themselves and continue to do the best they can and pursue their hobbies and interests. Encourage them by talking about their interests and discussing any goals or ambitions they have.

Make sure you’re supported

You are a role model for the children in your care and in order to be well equipped to support your child it is important that you look after yourself too. You can show your child the importance of valuing yourself by making time for you. It can be immensely difficult to try to meet all your child’s needs when you are also grieving, so be kind to yourself and don’t try to be a ‘super parent’. Watch our short guidance film for ways to look after yourself when someone has died.

Visit our page: How we can support you for more on our services.

You can also call our Helpline 0800 02 888 40, email [email protected], or use Live Chat on our website.