Guest post by childhood bereavement charity Winston’s Wish; help for the additional children grieving due to the pandemic.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted grieving children and young people?
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on children and young people. An estimated 10,450 children and young people have been bereaved of a parent, grandparent or caregiver due to Covid-19 in England and Wales. That’s on top of the estimated 41,000 children and young people who are bereaved of a parent every year in the UK.
With lockdowns, school closures, being cut off from support networks and unable to say goodbye to loved ones, the pandemic has also created a unique set of circumstances that has made grieving more complicated for these children.
“Many children and young people have avoided grieving and instead bottled it up, because they simply can’t deal with the painful feelings and emotions while also living through a pandemic,” says Di Stubbs, Winston’s Wish practitioner. “However, while you might be able to postpone the intense feelings of grief, you cannot permanently avoid them.”
Difficulties Experienced by Grieving Children
Deferring their grief in this way can lead to a number of difficulties for children and young people, such as problems at school, mental health issues and more risk-taking behaviours. With support, children and young people can go on to lead full and flourishing lives but they need help from their parent or guardian to explore and express their grief.
Childhood bereavement charity Winston’s Wish has created a number of resources, including activities and conversation starters, to help parents and guardians support their children with their grief, which are available to download here: winstonswish.org/pandemic-grief
How has the pandemic complicated grieving for children and young people?
“I know everyone has had a tough year but it has been so hard to support my children as they grieve their dad’s death while they’ve also been away from everything and everyone who would normally be there for them: my mum, his parents, their cousins, teachers, school friends.” Iona*, parent (names changed to protect anonymity).
The Covid-19 pandemic and the response to it has created a unique set of circumstances that has made grieving more complicated for bereaved children and young people:
- Separated from those who would usually support them – friends, teachers, wider family, youth workers
- Restrictions on visiting people and on funerals and memorial services means children had less chance to spend time with them or say goodbye
- They have been constantly reminded of their bereavement with everyone talking about the pandemic and deaths
- They may feel that their bereavement is just one among many and that no one is interested in their story
- They may feel angry about things they see as contributing to the death, for example people ignoring lockdown rules, not self-isolating, a lack of ventilators, or resources being diverted away from other illnesses like cancer to Covid-19 patients
- Children and young people are dealing with so many changes and disruption – school closures, cancelled exams, clubs closed, routines changed, parents’ jobs at risk – that there feels like there has been no space to grieve
- With so many children and young people experiencing mental health challenges and many services forced to stop or switch to online support, they may experience difficulties accessing support and resources.
How do I know if my child needs support to express their grief?
A child might not understand that they are struggling with their grief or know how to explain it to an adult, but there are some common signs to look out for:
- You notice changes in their behaviour, for example they become anxious, withdrawn, sad or angry
- They struggle to concentrate
- They experience problems at school or their marks drop
- They don’t want to talk about the person who has died
- They have trouble sleeping
- They experience physical symptoms, for example unexplained pains, headaches or stomach aches
How can I help my child with their grief?
The death of a family member, especially a parent or sibling, is a devastating situation for any child, but with the right support at the right time they can go on to have a full and flourishing future. Here are some of the ways you can help them:
- Acknowledge what has happened and their grief and loss
- Offer simple and clear explanations of what has happened
- Talk to them about what may happen next and offer them reassurance about the future
- Show them that it’s ok to express their feelings by sharing your emotions
- Help them to explore and express their feelings and thoughts
- Find ways to remember that person’s life and mark anniversaries, birthdays and special days
- If needed, help them find specialist bereavement support
Childhood bereavement charity Winston’s Wish have created a number of activities that you can download to help you with this: winstonswish.org/pandemic-grief
If a child needs more specialist bereavement support, the Winston’s Wish Freephone Helpline provides immediate guidance and our Bereavement Support Practitioners can provide bespoke individual and family support for children and young people up to the age of 25 – a practitioner will be allocated within five working days of a referral.
Please call their Freephone Helpline on 08088 020 021 or email firstname.lastname@example.org