It is normal for adults, supporting a child through loss, to feel unsure of their role and what to do.
This guide to is to give supporting adults a simple approach, based upon established advice. This advice is not just for children. Supporting a child through loss often helps the adult to better understand her or his own experiences of grief.
In the event of a Silver Listener’s death, no matter how strong the relationship between a Silver Reader and Silver Listener, the adults supporting a reader must not directly contact the listener’s family. They should contact the Silver Stories team from the website https://silverstories.co.uk/contact or by email firstname.lastname@example.org in order to make contact with the listener’s family.
Silver Stories creates and builds caring relationships between readers and listeners. It is possible that a relationship may end, unexpectedly, due to illness, death or other unexplained circumstances.
In the very sad event of the death of a Silver Listener, adults who know the child best, need to consider the situation in light of each child’s individual context (age, experience of loss and the questions they want to ask) and circumstances (the depth of the relationship, the nature of the loss and the information known by the child).
In all situations, close collaboration between the Silver Reader’s school and parents / carers, must be prioritised at the earliest opportunity to make sure that all adults share the same awareness of the child’s needs. A phone call or face to face meeting (remote platforms, such as Teams and zoom can be used) is the best way to do this.
It is important to ensure the children’s / young person’s views and wishes are central to decision-making and that all support is tailored to their developmental stage, understanding, and any social-emotional or learning needs. Some children may want to talk to make sense and understand, while others may prefer to quietly reflect on their previous experiences. If they ask questions, these can often be detailed, repeated and go into depths that adults sometimes find surprising, “morbid” and challenging.
It is important that the parent/carer and key adult in school, feel confident to support the child by following the principles below and by seeking further support and guidance when they want it.
General principles to consider:
Children vary, according to their age, stage of development and previous experience, in their understanding of death (as something that is permanent and irreversible).
A simple biological description helps, (his heart stopped beating, her lungs couldn’t work properly) because adults can refer to previous experiences (pets, relatives, media).
Young children are very egocentric in their thinking and can believe their own wishes, thoughts and actions can cause what happens to themselves and others. Clear and short explanations allow them to avoid blaming themselves or others.
It is important to avoid ambiguities or euphemisms. Younger children do not understand phrases such as, ‘We lost Grace’ ‘Bob has gone to sleep,’ or ‘Trevor is at rest.’ These can be confusing and therefore upsetting.
As a general principle, if children ask a question, they need an answer. It is important for adults to be honest- responding to what the child wants to know in language they can understand- being mindful of not too much and not too little information. It is fine to respond by saying, ‘I don’t know’ when you are unsure and to let the child know it is still OK to ask questions as much as they want to.
As the adult working with and supporting a child, you may be asked some blunt questions, (Where do you go when you die? What happens to your body? Why do people die? Will I die? Will you die?) None of these questions are meant to challenge the adult but may act as emotional triggers (as many adults will have their own strong feelings and experiences related to death and loss). The child just wants to understand and make sense of the loss. It is also very appropriate for the child to see and hear the adult’s sadness. “I’m very sad too…I would just like to sit quietly for a while, is that OK?”
This will help them to feel comfortable to show their own emotions, and build trust in the adult.
Young people’s questions and adult’s responses allow all to respect cultural and spiritual beliefs and acknowledge difference by using phrases like, ‘Some people believe that…’. This is a useful approach to questions that don’t have a definitive answer. A response to a question such as, ‘What is heaven like?’ can refer to there being ‘many different views, but nobody can be certain’.
Children may wish to send letters, make a card or write a poem about the person who has died- to express the things they want to say. Supporting the making of a memory box and engaging with a practical activity gives the opportunity to talk, without requiring the youngster to do so until they are ready.
Sharing these creative ideas may not be appropriate in direct liaison with the Silver Listener’s family. All communication and liaison must be done via the Silver Stories team from the website https://silverstories.co.uk/contact or by email email@example.com in order to make contact with the Silver Listener’s family. The team will arrange the transfer of any creative items and contact the reader with feedback.
The following websites can also provide useful sources of information:
Child Bereavement Network: www.childhoodbereavementnetwork.org.uk
Child Bereavement Trust: www.childbereavement.org.uk
Child Bereavement UK: www.childbereavementuk.org/pages/category/books-resources
Compassionate Friends: www.tcf.org.uk
Dougy Center: https://www.dougy.org/
Jeremiah’s Journey: https://jeremiahsjourney.org.uk/
Simon Says: www.simonsays.org.uk
Winston’s Wish: www.winstonswish.org.uk