Anxiety is a normal feeling to experience after loss or when a loved one is unwell.
Younger children may not always have the words or understanding to express when they are feeling upset, worried or anxious. You may however notice some signs which may include:
- Wanting to spend more time with you, and not wanting to separate from you
- Change in mood which may include tantrums, irritability or being quieter than usual
- Difficulties getting to sleep, waking up several times during the night or not wanting to be alone at night
- It may seem that they have regressed in age a little
- Physical symptoms such as tummy ache or headaches
- They may become more tearful than usual
- You may find that they struggle with concentration and school work
- Loss in appetite or increased appetite
- Not wanting to do the things that they previously enjoyed doing
- They may also ask a lot of questions- seeking reassurance
It is important to know that all of these are normal responses after loss, but if they continue for a prolonged period of time, some extra help might be needed.
Let your child(ren) know that however they are feeling is ok and offer reassurance that they are loved and they are not alone.
You can help your child(ren) by making their world feel more predictable and finding ways that they may feel like they have more control. This will help any feelings of uncertainty, and help reduce any anxiety. Sticking to routines are important and if this involves a change in routine, involve them in it so that they know what to expect. It may help to write or draw out a weekly structure. Where possible, keep them informed if any plans are changed, such as someone else needing to pick them up from school. You may also need to be more flexible with standard rules, but be clear with consequences.
Spend time listening to your child and find out what their understanding is about what is happening/ what has happened. This will allow you to see if there are any gaps in their understanding which you can help to fill. Being clear, in an age appropriate way will help reduce any confusion and false ideas that they may have built in their minds.
When a loved one has died, talking to them about what to expect during the funeral may help reduce anxieties about what it may be like. It may help to involve them in the planning of the funeral.
Where possible, try and spend some quality time with your child, doing things that they enjoy. This will help them feel safe and give them a break from difficult feelings.
Talk about their loved one and encourage them to share their feelings. Share memories together. Take a look at our leaflet ‘ways to remember someone special who has died.’
For some, they may feel like they did not have the chance to say goodbye or there might be things that they wish that they had said. You could encourage them to:
- Make a video
- Write a letter
- Create a poem
- Draw a picture
- Write a song
You could perhaps ask them to consider how their loved one would have responded to this.
Naming worries can help to reduce anxiety. For younger children, you could try making a ‘worry monster’ or a ‘worry bag/box’ and encourage the child to name their worry, write it down and feed it to the monster/ put it in the bag/box. This will help them to talk about their worries and together you can explore ways of being able to manage these. Reading the book ‘A Huge Bag of Worries’ by Virginia Ironside is a good way of introducing this activity.
Older children may respond better to writing a list of their worries and scaling them. This will help you see what might be worrying them the most.
Keeping in touch with your child’s school will help ensure that additional support is put in place for your child, if needed.
Some ideas to explore feelings are:
- Look through books together and take time to look at the pictures and facial expressions of the characters. You can explore how the character might be feeling and share times that you too may have experienced that feeling. This may help the child’s understanding, and by sharing your own experiences it is giving the child permission to as well.
- Role play with puppets, teddies or different characters are also a great way to explore feelings and loss with children.
- You could try a game of acting out different emotions. Take it in turns to act out an emotion while the other tries to guess it. This is a good way of exploring their emotional literacy and helps them to name feelings that they may not know.
- Discuss different feelings and where you may experience these feelings in the body e.g. worry may link to butterfly’s in the tummy, tiredness can come with aching eyes. You could try drawing or printing out an outline of a person and write or colour to represent the feelings in the body. This will help your child express and understand their feelings and how it manifests in the body.
- Drawing facial expressions on paper plates is another way of exploring feelings and talking about what each feeling may look like.
- Using different coloured sand/ glitter/ rice, you could create a ‘feelings jar.’ Ask your child(ren) to think about different feelings that they have and choose a colour to represent this and put it in the jar. This will give you an opportunity to explore each of these feelings in more detail. You can then explore things that may help each of those feelings, to allow room in the jar for happier, easier to manage feelings.
- For older children, guided journaling can be a good way to explore feelings. You could give them some sentence starters such as ‘I feel…, I wish…, I hope…’ There are also some feelings and/or bereavement focused journals which can be purchased as an alternative.
- In the teen years, young people make attempts to move away from relying on parents for support, you may find they don’t talk about their emotions as much as they had done previously. Teenagers may spend more time talking to their friends about how they are feeling, away from parents. They may also search out information on the internet rather than turn to adults for answers to questions. You could try talking to them about times that they may be struggling and what they might need from you. Perhaps you could write out a plan; when I’m feeling... you may notice... it might be useful if you… things that are unhelpful are… other things that may help are…
- Take a look at our recommended reading list which has suggestions on books which explore loss and feelings for different age groups.