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Understanding grief for children

At 10:31 this evening, the exact time of the Manchester Arena bomb attack, bells will be ringing across Manchester.

Resilience together

Young Freya Lewis now 15, was seriously injured in the bombing attack a year ago, she was placed in an induced coma. Yet one year on, she raised £40 000 pounds in the Great Manchester run, junior race, for the hospital that saved her life. She was supported through her grief and injuries to recover. with such resilience. We all have resilience. It often feels paper thin in grief and perhaps non existent in trauma. Yet it is always there, we are born with it.

How can we support other children recovering from trauma, grief and loss?

In communities we often know instantly how to manage grief and loss, usually through information sharing, and perhaps the use of ‘experts’ to guide us through the practicalities. We do our best, tapping into our own experiences (which may have been ignored innocently). And time moves on for us. How does it move on for the child?

How do you support a 5-year-old whose Mum just died, or a teenager losing a best friend?

Carl's Goldfish. When Carl’s goldfish died It was n’t quite emergency news, we didn’t fly in the experts. What did we do?

We recognised something, we ARE the experts! As are you!

It was a rainy play time and I was on duty.

I can remember a small group of children, laughing wildly on the playground and Carl

(aged 7) sobbing his heart out. He was grieving for his favourite goldfish who had died in the night. Carl was inconsolable. To make it worse, his friends had laughed when he told them of his tragedy.

How did we help?

Probably in the same way you all do. We listened, mopped up his tears; chose adults to carry on the care; chose empathic friends to play with him; asked if he wanted a ceremony in school; set up a memory corner; held an assembly (a long one!) for dead pets. The site supervisor knitted Carl a tiny fish to keep in his pocket.

Carl learned it was ok to grieve, he explored his ‘how to’ with loving adults there to answer questions. He also learned how others felt the same when their pets died. And … he had a memory in his pocket, it became a lovingly shared experience. Staff and children were the ‘experts’.

A very human story. You are already an ‘expert’.

When someone we love dies, it feels as if the world closes in. Adults are hushed and sad; they too are managing grief. Young children don’t grasp the finality immediately. They turn up in our playgrounds, skins not as shiny, hair not as styled and perhaps everyone avoiding the topic and with the best intention we get on with the day.

It is always good to share, making talk opportunities a natural part of recovery.

In the weeks after a death or traumatic experience, a child really benefits from a named trusted member of the school community spending time with them. It’s an opportunity for some 1:1 (sorely missed when a parent or close family member dies.) It can be just in the library tidying books or drawing, reading, playing a game. A child does not always show the inner turmoil and in a busy school life, they can simply go unnoticed. Or the adults may not want to ‘upset’ them. We mange grief according to how we experienced it ourselves. Anything unprocessed can also be painful for us.

I once helped an autistic child who loved basket- ball. He had experienced trauma and could not express his grief. Using time together to practice ball skills, I noticed how at times, he expressed his grief through the strength or height of the bounce and we drew a bounce chart to see where he was in his thinking. That helped in class too. ANOTHER TIME a young child drew a black spot, every day for a week. The tiny black spot helped him to unfurl safely until tears came, and anger and so much snot. All held behind a black pencil point.

WE ARE THE EXPERTS. We know the children in our schools.

When we are grieving our logic and mental resources close down. We can’t always work it all out (after all – even our grown- ups can’t). If another human spends time with us, knows us and is comfortable just to #Simply BE with us, we begin to recover.

Simple ideas to support children:

· Spending 1:1 time where the child chooses (in class, in the playground, at

lunch etc)

· Discover what they enjoy and share this with them – simply being you and they

are simply themselves.

· Listening with nothing on your mind

· Make it a regular daily 20 minute or more, then weekly and as the healing

begins check in with the child when they want to stop.

Please do remember, you are the experts in your school in the beginning, and you will know if you need to move towards external help.

Thank you for all you do to support the children in our communities…daily.

For supporting young adults in their grief please see