We are working for better support for children in bereaved families across Europe. More children and youth than one would assume experience the loss of a close relative and appropriate support for these vulnerable children can make a positive difference.
We know that children in bereaved families are at higher risk of illness, both mentally and physically. In the time just after the loss, many children experience feelings like grief, anxiety, insecurity, and loneliness. In addition their physical health can be affected, often with long term consequences. If the feelings and experiences of children in bereaved families are not recognised and addressed, the risk of long term negative effects of the loss increase. From a whole-lifetime perspective the loss of a close relative in childhood can have a negative impact on both social, emotional, and economic wellbeing. Seeing and acting on the vulnerability of these children is essential.
Don’t be afraid to mention death
Speak with the children about the loss, the person they lost, and their feelings. Invite the children to participate in rituals such as burial. If children feel safe to speak about the death, to ask questions, and play a role in the goodbye, it will, for most, become easier to handle emotions and situations in the bereaved family.
If possible let the child initiate these conversations.
Support the children by supporting their families
When a family member dies, the whole family is affected. Many children do not understand their own feelings of grief, but they can be affected by the loss all the same. If a parent or another caregiver of the child has passed away, there will be a gap to be filled. At the same time, the adults in the bereaved family may not have the same capacity to care for and nurture the child’s needs. Both practical and emotional support is very welcome in many cases. Sometimes it can be difficult for a family to ask for external help, especially when it comes to matters that are normally dealt with within the family.
The best support is given with sensitivity for the bereaved – respecting their traditions and boundaries.
Professionals can make a difference
Teachers and other professional caregivers around the child have an important role in helping them feel safe and acknowledged in life outside the family. This reduces the vulnerability of children I bereaved families.
Some children need more support than they can get from the adult professionals that surround them in their everyday life. If you think that is the case, or if you need advice as a professional, contact one of the members of FBNE (list of member-organizations appear on this site soon).