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Bereavement and Loss

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We asked four young people who've experienced bereavement to share their thoughts and tips on dealing with grief. Over a million people have been bereaved du...

How children understand death 

Under six months

At this age, babies will have no understanding of death, but will notice if their main caregiver (eg mum or dad) is absent.

Some common reactions include:

  • feeding and sleeping difficulties
  • crying
  • being worried.

Six months to two years

At this age, children still won't have any understanding of death, but they will be very upset if their main caregiver is absent.

At around two, children start to notice the absence of other people eg a familiar grandparent.

Some common reactions include:

  • loud crying, being inconsolable
  • anger about changes to their daily routine
  • sleep problems and tummy aches
  • looking for the person and asking where they are.

Two to five years

At this age, children may talk about death but don’t understand it and think that it’s reversible. They may ask questions such as ‘If grandma’s in the ground, how does she breathe?’

They may also believe in ‘magical thinking’ and may think they are directly responsible for the death.

Some common reactions include:

  • asking the same questions repeatedly
  • needing reassurance that you’re not going to die too and death is not their fault
  • clingy behaviour and behaving inappropriately for their age.

Five to ten years

At age seven, most children understand that death is permanent and inevitable. Some children may take longer than this.

They are aware of death, and they may worry that you or others may die too.



They may be fascinated by what happens when someone dies. 

They can show compassion for someone who’s bereaved. They may worry about the effect on you if they’re sad and try to hide their feelings.

Some common reactions include:

  • withdrawal, sadness, loneliness
  • getting angry more often, difficulty concentrating at school
  • regressive behaviour
  • trying to be brave and control things.


Adolescents normally have a better understanding of death and can think about the long-term impact it will have on their lives.

They may worry more about changes to the routine, like who will take care of them or look after the house. They might worry about things like finances or the future.

Some common reactions include:

  • Finding it difficult to talk about their feelings or wanting to talk to friends rather than adults.
  • Feeling sadness, anger or guilt. Their emotions may be quite intense. 
  • Feeling worse about themselves. 
  • Wishing it hadn’t happened, or wondering why it had to happen to them. 
  • Changes in how well they do at school or work. 
  • Worrying they might develop the illness which the person died of (especially if they were related).

Changes in behaviour 

Children may not have words for how they feel, but you can watch for changes in their behaviour, which could be their way of expressing feelings they can’t talk about. These could include:

  • Clinginess. Refusing to be left behind and clinging to you can be a sign the child needs reassurance you aren’t going to die and leave them too.
  • Distance. Some children can put up a barrier with other members of the family because they’re scared of getting hurt again. They might want to spend more time away from home, with friends or at school.
  • Aggression. This may be the child’s way of expressing helplessness in the face of loss.
  • Regression. Acting younger than their age can be a sign of insecurity. Young children may start wetting or soiling themselves, or wanting a long-forgotten bottle or dummy.
  • Lack of concentration. The child may find it hard to concentrate at school and fall behind with their work.
  • Sleep problems. Children may find it hard to sleep and become afraid of the dark.
  • Trying too hard. Young children believe their behaviour can influence events. They might think if they behave really well and do things such as eating broccoli and cleaning out the hamster cage their mum might come back to life.

These are all natural reactions and they will pass. However, if you have any concerns, there are people out there you can talk to. Winston’s Wish  , the Childhood Bereavement Network   and Child Bereavement UK   are organisations which can offer information and support for children who are grieving. There are more places which can offer support on grief in our directory of useful organisations.

Support for Adults


Cruse Bereavement Care

Cruse is a national charity providing advice, information and support to anyone who has been bereaved (children, young people and adults), whenever or however the death occurred. The service is provided by trained, experienced volunteers, and is confidential and free. Cruse provides face-to-face, telephone and website support both post and pre-bereavement.

Phone: 0808 808 1677 (national helpline)

Find out more on the Cruse Bereavement Care website, including details on how to contact your local branch.


Eastleigh Bereavement Service

Bereavement Service for Southampton and Eastleigh. Registered charity offering emotional support and practical advice to all bereaved people. Free and confidential.

Phone: 07707 664702


WAY Foundation

WAY runs self help groups across the UK offering information, support and friendship for men and women up to 50 who have lost a partner.  

Phone: 0870 011 3450



Support following sudden or traumatic death


Assist Trauma Care

Help and support for individuals and families, adults and children, who have suffered any kind of traumatic occurrence such as an attack, a transport incident, a fire, a bomb, war, or a tsunami.  Help is provided by qualified and experienced therapists who aim to help people recover and move on with their lives.

Helpline: 017 8856 0800


Escaping Victimhood

Offering residential programmes for those bereaved through murder or manslaughter (including road death) to enable adults to look to a more positive future.

Phone: 07715 209415


Red Lipstick Foundation

Offering support after suicide through online groups, support meets, home visits, befriending, inquest support, media support, counselling, and holistic therapy. Support also available for anyone after the loss of a child through sudden death. 

Phone: 07933 824976



National charity providing emotional and practical support to those bereaved or injured in a road crash.

Helpline: 0845 450 0355 (9am-5pm  Monday to Friday)


SAMM - Support after Murder and Manslaughter

For anyone who has suffered the traumatic death of a loved one, regardless of how long since the death.

National helpline: 0845 872 3440


Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide

(Previously known as SOBS)

Aims to meet the needs and break the isolation of those bereaved by the suicide of a close relative or friend. A self help, voluntary organisation - many of those helping have themselves been bereaved by suicide.

National helpline: 0300 111 5056 (9am to 9pm every day

Death of a child and bereavement support for children and young people



A website service providing online information and support for anyone affected by the death of a baby at any stage of pregnancy, at birth, or due to neonatal death.



Care for the Family

Offering widowed young support, bereaved parent support, supporting bereaved people, bereaved sibling support.

Phone: 029 2081 0800


Child Bereavement Charity

Supporting families and educating professionals, both when a child dies and when a child is bereaved.

Phone:  014 9456 8900


Cruse Bereavement Care Youth Line Hope Again

Cruse’s young people’s website, designed by young people for young people aged between 12 and 18.

Phone:  0808 808 1677 (Young people’s freephone helpline)


Child Death Helpline

Helpline for anyone affected by the death of a child of any age, under any circumstances, however long ago. Staffed by trained volunteers, all of whom are bereaved parents.  Based at Great Ormond Street and Alder Hey hospitals.

Phone: 0800 282 986 (freephone) or 0808 800 6019 (freephone for mobile phones)


Compassionate Friends

Supporting bereaved parents and their families after a child dies. Available for support and information daily. The line is always answered by a bereaved parent.

Phone: 0345 123 2304 (national helpline)
Phone: 0345 120 3785 (office) (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 4.30pm)


The Lullaby Trust

The Lullaby Trust provides expert advice on safer sleep for babies, emotional support for bereaved families and raises awareness of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Freephone helpline: 0808 802 6868



Jigsaw4u is a charity dedicated to supporting children, young people, and their families, who have experienced grief, loss and trauma.

Phone: 020 8687 1384


SANDS - Still Birth and Neonatal Death Society

Sands offer support to anyone affected by the death of a baby either during pregnancy or after birth.  Local groups are run by bereaved parents and are currently established in Southampton, Havant, Portsmouth, Basingstoke and Chichester and meet monthly.  On-line and email support is available and home visits can also be arranged. 

Sands online support forum to exchange experiences.
Phone: 0808 164 3332



SIBBS is Compassionate Friend’s nationwide self-help support group for people who have suffered the death of a brother or sister.

Phone: 0345 123 2304 (10am-4pm and 6.30pm-10.30pm every day).
Email: (information, support, information about SIBBS)


Simon Says

Southampton-based registered charity providing information and resources to bereaved children and their families. Support groups are available where children and young people have the opportunity to talk and play with others the same age. Support for adult carers and parents too.

Phone: 023 8064 7550


Winston’s Wish

Support, information and guidance to all those caring for a child or young person who has been bereaved.

National helpline: 0808 802 0021