Supporting a child or young person when someone important to them has died by murder or manslaughter can be extremely hard. The emotional impact of a sudden, violent loss is enormous and adds an extra layer of pain and distress to what is already a devastating situation. 

Should I tell my child that someone important to them has died by homicide?

Adults instinctively want to protect children from distressing information but it is important that children are given the truth. However tempting it may be to withhold information from your child, it is better to explain what has happened as soon as you can. A death by murder or manslaughter tends to be picked up by the press, the local community and social media and it is likely that a child will overhear a conversation, see something on social media or be told by someone at school. It is much better that they are told in a safe place, by someone they are close to and who can support them on an ongoing basis. 

How can I tell my child that someone important to them has died by homicide?

Telling a child that someone has died is daunting, and when someone dies by homicide it is particularly challenging. Children’s understanding of death varies according to a number of factors including their age, level of maturity, previous experience of bereavement and culture.

Tell your child what has happened as soon as possible in a comfortable, familiar environment. It is likely to be hard for you to share this news with your child and it can help to have someone else your child knows with you to provide support and take over if you are finding it particularly difficult.

Try to use language that is age-appropriate and relevant to their level of understanding, avoiding using euphemisms such as 'lost', 'gone to the stars' or 'passed away' which can be confusing for children.

You might say: 'I have something difficult I need to talk to you about. I am very sorry to tell you that Dad died last night.'

This may be all you need to say at this stage but if you suspect they have already picked up information from other people or social media you may need to say more. Ask them what they know; it is important to correct anything that is incorrect or based on rumour or speculation. 

A next step can be giving simple, factual details which the child or young person can picture. This helps them to shape the details into a story that they can understand and tell other people, e.g.:

'Daddy died outside the train station.'

'Sonia died on a bus in France.'

Should I explain to my child how the person died?

It is best to be honest, while thinking carefully about the words you use. Try to alternate the difficult, truthful statements with words that will help a child to feel safe. You might say:

'Although Dad has died he is not hurting. Dad was attacked by some people and they had a very big fight. The doctors tried their best to make him better but he was too badly hurt and he died.'


'The people who attacked Marcus hurt him with a knife. The police are working really hard to find out who did this.'

With young children, avoid emotive words like 'stabbed' or 'murdered'. Saying 'hurt' and 'killed' still gets the message across but puts more focus on the death of someone important to the child, rather than the violent circumstances. Try to say that 'someone did a very bad thing' rather than 'it was done by a very bad person' as a 'bad man' or 'bad woman' can become a frightening figure in a child’s mind. 

How should I answer my child’s questions?

When a child is ready to hear more, they will ask a question. Try to answer just the question asked, with just enough information to help the child to put together a story that makes sense to them.

Additional information can be given in stages over future days, weeks or months, depending on when the child shows they are ready to hear or need more detail. They will need space and time to absorb the information, ask questions, and talk about how they are feeling if they want to.

Should I let my child view the body of their special person who has died?

Viewing the body of someone who has died may feel like a very grown-up or difficult thing for a child to do and many adults will understandably have reservations.

It is not unusual, however, for a child to ask to see the person who has died. Children are naturally curious and provided they are well prepared, viewing the body of the person who has died can help them to understand what being dead means. 

Children sometimes want to see the body of the person who has died to say goodbye and to be reassured that the person looks peaceful. This may not be possible if there is damage to the body which is distressing to see. Where someone has died in traumatic circumstances, it may be helpful to have a conversation with hospital staff or your funeral director first for guidance as to what might be possible. It may be possible to view, or even touch, an undamaged part such as a hand, with the body covered so that only the hand is exposed. It is important to think beforehand about what to do if the child asks to see the rest of the body. Preparing your child for what they will see and giving a clear but sensitive explanation can help. You might say:

'Because of the way your Dad died, his body is damaged and you might find that upsetting to look at but you can see or hold his hand if you would like to.'

How can I help my child who witnessed the death?

Children bereaved by murder or manslaughter can be at significant risk of developing post-trauma symptoms, particularly if they witnessed the crime or were involved in some way, for example having to call the emergency services. Children may need professional support in the immediate aftermath and the longer term.

It is common for anyone who has experienced a frightening or disturbing event to have various reactions for a few weeks afterwards. These can include flashbacks (intrusive images of the event), suddenly being startled, being very anxious, and having difficulty concentrating. It can help to reassure your child that these are normal reactions, that they are safe, and that the intensity of these feelings will lessen in time.

However, if a child continues to be struggling several weeks or months later, or if their behaviour or emotional state is affecting everyday activities, their GP may be able to advise you on further support. 

Media attention, police investigations and going to court

When someone has died by homicide it isn’t uncommon for it to be reported in the local or national news. There may be attention from the media or questions from people about what happened. For children, and adults, this can be intrusive and difficult to manage. One bereaved young person told us:

Media attention, phone calls, people, just total anarchy, just everything... I just couldn't take it all.

Having to deal with the police, the coroner, lawyers and the media all add to the stress, as does trying to shield children from this. The requirements of the criminal justice system can cause lengthy delays to rituals such as the funeral, and such delays may obstruct or complicate grieving.

When the person responsible is known to you

It is possible that the person responsible is someone you or your family knows. 

In some cases, a family member or friend may be a suspect, but to a child they are still their parent, brother, sister, other relative or friend. A child may continue to love them, but this will be mixed with conflicting feelings of shock and distress about what has happened. Because of this bond, a child may consider themselves responsible in some way for the death, or feel they could have done something to prevent it. Such self-blame can create deep-seated feelings of guilt.

When one parent has killed another, in effect a child has lost both parents in a manner that is both sudden and shocking. The death may mean that a child has to move from their home and be looked after by relatives or someone they are not familiar with, or don’t know at all. This can add to feelings of insecurity and confusion. Family relationships may be affected as everyone tries to deal with the resulting turmoil of confused emotions.

What might help children and young people

When supporting bereaved children and young people, try to give them time to talk and ask questions. Children often worry about saying things that might upset people, making them reluctant to talk about what has happened or to ask questions. Reassure them that you will listen, without making judgements, about anything they need to say.

The death is likely to be reported in the media and children in the family may have to speak to police or other professionals. You can explain that this can help the police to find out what happened and help prevent it happening to someone else.

Children need to find ways to face other people and what they might say, as you cannot always be with them. You can work out together what they might say if asked difficult questions and help them to practise their answers. This will help them to feel more prepared.

Give reassurance and simple facts. This can help make it clear that nothing that the child thought, did or said caused the death, and that there was nothing they could have done to prevent it. Children can find this difficult to take in at first, so you may need to repeat the reassurance over time. Children may also worry about themselves or others close to them being hurt. Although you cannot say this will definitely not happen, you might say: 'There are some people who do bad things to hurt people, but not many. Most people are good and kind.'

If they regularly use social media, young people may be more aware of the realities of life, and most media stories focus on dramatic or negative news. A death by murder or manslaughter reinforces the feeling that the world is a scary and dangerous place. Try to balance this for them by also focusing on anything positive concerning people or places familiar to them.

The sudden nature of the death, and the disruption and uncertainty caused by the legal processes, can increase your family’s sense of powerlessness and lack of control. As far as possible, try to involve a young person in important decisions that will affect their lives, for example, in planning the funeral or choosing different options for support.

As with any bereavement, it is important that children and young people feel able to continue with activities that they enjoy and give themselves permission to have fun sometimes. Don’t be surprised if one minute young children are very distressed but the next they are laughing and playing. This is called 'puddle jumping' and is the way children cope with difficult and overwhelming feelings.

Teenagers may appear to be totally focused on their social life, but in reality they may be using it to blot out difficult feelings. Our short animated films, The Invisible Suitcase and Volcano, offer guidance on ways to manage difficult feelings which children and younger teenagers may find helpful.

I needed space, space to breathe and acknowledge and accept what has happened.

Bereaved teenager

Young people bereaved by murder or manslaughter have said that support from peers who have been bereaved in the same way is vital. The shared experience creates an understanding and empathy that they feel no one else can offer. You can find out more about the availability of our Groups for Young People by contacting our Helpline.

Remembering the person who has died and saying goodbye

Rituals that help people say goodbye, such as a funeral, may be delayed due to medical and criminal investigations. In the meantime it can be helpful to support children to acknowledge the death in another way, such as by laying flowers in a special place.

Not all family relationships are positive and a child may have mixed feelings towards the person who died. If you are able to share both positive and less positive memories of the person, the child can feel they can grieve for the person as they really were.

You might find it helpful to watch our short animated film, Remembering someone special who has died with your child. You may also find it helpful to watch our animated films on what happens at a burial and at a cremation.

Support for you as parent or carer

This is an enormously difficult time for the whole family. The challenge of meeting the needs of children alongside your own emotional or practical needs should not be underestimated.

If you need support or guidance, please contact our Helpline

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.