How to address the death of a loved one with children

The subject of death is never comfortable, especially when the conversation is with a child. Founder and President of Grief Encounter, Dr Shelley Gilbert MBE shares her advice

Published: October 10, 2018 at 1:03 pm

Dr Shelley Gilbert MBE, Founder and President of Grief Encounter, lost her mother at the age of 4 and her father only a few years later when she was just 9. As a result, she has devoted her life to making things different for today’s bereaved youngsters, creating Grief Encounter 15 years ago to create an environment where children could be told the truth and speak openly about their feelings.


Now Dr Gilbert, has revealed some top tips for children navigating this traumatic time of life, inspired by the re-release of Dear Grandma Bunny, Dick Bruna’s classic Miffy picture book which tackles the subject of death for very young children.


1. There are several good books available which can be helpful to make sense of all the different and confusing feelings you have such as ‘Dear Grandma Bunny’ and ‘Chocolate Chipped: a smelly book about grief’

2. Seek support. It can really help to talk about the person who has died - and not to feel scared to say how you really feel. Bereavement charity Grief Encounter offers a wide range of services for bereaved children and young people, and their families, including one-to-one counselling, group support, family days, bereavement kits and e-support among may other services.

3. If you don't feel ready to say it out loud, write something difficult on paper - then screw up the paper/throw away the paper.

4. Talk to other people who understand how you feel and to those who knew the person (someone in your family or close friends). Try thinking about happy and special times spent with that person and feeling glad that you did have them in your life.

5. Write a diary about how you feel, make up poems, music and songs. The Grief Encounter Workbook contains activities designed to help children learn about grief in a safe way, encouraging conversations about death.

6. Make a Memory Box filled with things that remind you of your loved one e.g. Perfume, pictures, cards, drawings, poems, a favourite recipe or anything you associate with that person.

7. It’s OK to feel sad, angry and scared and to cry, and it is also OK to feel happy and to enjoy things. There is no right or wrong way to feel and your feelings can change.

8. Visiting their grave may make you feel closer to the person you have lost.

9. In your mind or out loud, talk to the person who has died - but also remember it is OK not to have the person in your mind all the time.


10. Ask for a hug.


Dear Grandma Bunny by Dick Bruna, Simon & Schuster UK, is available from Waterstones, priced from £4.99 (hardback)

For more information about helping Children cope with grief can be found at Grief Encounter


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