Working with children and young people I have always been amazed to witness their resilience and have seen first-hand that when given the right information, honestly and in an open way they can make sense of the world around them and tackle some really difficult situations.

As a parent our first instinct is to want to protect our children from anything that may be upsetting or difficult for them to understand. 

The truth is, as humans our whole life is a continuation of managing loss. From being a new born accepting the loss of the womb, and adjusting to life in the outside world. Throughout childhood, loss is experienced constantly in many various forms, allowing us to build neuropathways that helps us to understand and withstand the impact loss may have on us emotionally. 

Children will learn how to regulate their emotions through all these early experiences of loss and as parents, carers, relatives we can support the child to build resilience and healthy coping mechanisms through-out this important period in their lives.

When a parent is dying, the same is true. Open honest explanations and conversations which include and inform the young person will allow them to process and make sense of what’s happening in ‘their’ world. Allowing them time to comprehend, ask questions, and understand the changes that an imminent loss will bring helps them be part of the family grieving process and not ‘outside’ of what’s happening.

A child may initially only see the immediate and obvious impact a parent’s death will have on their world, but the longer term changes and shifts death brings for a family, be they visible or invisible, maybe hard for the them to understand. Variations in understanding can be affected by age too.

Changes in the young person’s own behaviour maybe notable but by letting them know they are not to blame, and answering questions honestly can avoid a young person feeling excluded or confused by events. Conversations with them will give them the tools to cope and prepare for all that death brings both for the loved one and themselves.

Trinity’s Patient and Family Support (PAFS) team can help provide parents and carers of young people with guidance and support on how to talk to children about what is happening and the journey to end of life, in many different ways.


Paul’s top tips to support young people:

  1. Discuss with a member of the PAFS team what you would like to talk about with your child. With their help, a plan of what to say can be created , as well as the resources available to help.  You may need to tell your children individually due to age differences and deciding the different language used is also important.
  2. Do not delay telling a child, being excluded may be an additional burden for a young person later.
  3. Give a clear explanation of what is wrong, what is likely to happen in the coming weeks/months, and how things may change for yourself and them. They will pick up more than you think, and overhear the conversations of others.
  4. Include them where possible, a child feeling useful/helpful and having simple tasks to do will support them. 
  5. Consider lasting legacies, such as letters or cards for significant age milestones.

Bereavement support Support for Children