COVID-19 Bereavement Support

Breaking the News to Children and Young People When Someone is Seriously ill With Coronavirus (COVID-19)

We know that in these unsettled times children and young people may need additional support, information and reassurance and we know too that parents and carers may also need extra support and guidance. CHUMS will do everything in our power to help families through these challenging times.

The outbreak of COVID-19 means many aspects of children and families’ lives have already changed. The news is full of talk about the virus and the effect it is having. Due to social isolating, many families are having to spend time apart when they would like to be together.

Many children will have questions and worries about the virus, but those who have experienced the death of someone important or who have an ill family member might be particularly worried.

We hope the following information about supporting these children will be helpful.

Telling a child someone is seriously ill

Telling a child or young person that someone in their lives is seriously ill, whether they have heart problems, cancer or coronavirus (COVID-19) can be a difficult conversation for parents and carers to face. Adults often feel they can protect children by not telling them, however our experience in supporting families has shown that it is much better to talk to children about the illness, whilst remembering the following:

  • Be age appropriate
  • Be sensitive
  • Be truthful

Tell the children at your own pace

Adults may need time to experience and understand some of their own feelings and to have their own questions answered before they are ready to talk to their children.

We recognise that this can be a very difficult time for families; however it is important that children feel included.

How to tell children

  • How you explain the illness will depend on the child’s age and level of understanding. For younger children they may not be able to absorb much information and you may need to add as time goes on, whereas you may be able to tell older children everything you know immediately.
  • Choose a time and environment which is quiet and calm and use simple language. Don’t overwhelm very young children with too much information all at once. Be ready to answer their questions honestly over the next days, weeks or months. Remember fears and fantasy can be worse than the reality.
  • It may be helpful to rehearse beforehand what you want to say as it can be hard to find the right words.
  • Perhaps start by asking the child or young person what they think is happening, this will help you to know where to start.
  • Tell them that you are very concerned about the person because they are so ill.
  • Explain what the illness is and give it a name.
  • Talk about the treatment and them a little about how the illness may progress.
  • Doctors and nurses are doing everything they can to help their loved one to get better and we are all hoping he/she will be well again soon.
  • Say so if you do not know. Children can cope with uncertainty better than with dishonest reassurance.
  • Explain that worries about the person who is ill can make people at home behave differently. Adults and children may feel upset or grumpy at times. Remember to be kind to each other.

Children’s reactions

  • Children may become upset or angry or they may not seem to react at all. It may take a while for children to understand what they have been told, to express their emotions or ask questions.
  • Children may feel confused and unsettled.
  • Children often express difficult emotions through a change in their normal behaviour: withdrawn, tearful, sleep / eating changes, clingy, angry, anxious, headaches / tummy aches etc.
  • Children may copy their behaviours and coping skills from the adults they live with.

What can help

  • Accept and acknowledge children’s fears. Help them to talk about any worries.
  • Share your feeling together.
  • Children are more likely to express themselves in art, play or actions. They may also ask the same questions frequently – be patient and answer in simple language.
  • Drawing, painting, puppets, play people, books, poems, playdough, outside play – all these can help children to express their emotions, talk about their anxieties and release pent up energy. Be with them, play too.
  • Ask the children what they need to feel safe and try to provide it. If you cannot, explain why.
  • Ensure familiar and comforting things such as blanket, special toys etc as these provide security.
  • Try to maintain their established routines and allow them to continue previously enjoyed activities or interests should they want to.
  • Help children to keep in touch with family and friends – this may be through WhatsApp or Facetime. Recognise that children may need increased support from their wider network.
  • If they are unable to visit the person who is seriously ill, perhaps see if it would be possible to phone, send cards, drawings, record messages etc
  • Help children to feel useful and involved.
  • Children need to know that they are loved and will always be taken care of. Regular one to one time with a parent or carer can give opportunities to have their questions answered, receive hugs and don’t forget their need for fun and laughter.

As the illness progresses

  • Continue talking with your child or young person.
  • Children may be reluctant to ask questions and you may have to take the initiative.
  • If there is no chance of recovery, remember honest information will help them the most, however hard this is. If things are not explained they may feel confused, insecure and alone with their fears.
  • Make use of available books to explain about death and dying (please see booklist)
  • If it is possible, allow the child the choice and opportunity to visit the person who is dying. Prepare them beforehand for any changes in the person’s appearance and any medical equipment present. At this time of Coronavirus (COVOD19) this is not possible you could consider other ways such as phone, Facetime, recorded messages, video clips, cards, drawings or letters etc that may be shared by nursing staff.

Looking After Yourself Too

  • You can only do your best
  • Be kind to yourself
  • Don’t be afraid of asking for help

CHUMS Support:

CHUMS is still delivering all services, albeit we are now working remotely and conducting appointments, engagements and calls online or via telephone.

If you have any queries, please make contact via our usual email address:  Our admin team will get back to you in due course.

All voicemails are still being picked up by our admin team, but please be aware this is not constantly monitored. All calls that are picked up will be answered in due course.

PLEASE NOTE: CHUMS is not an urgent response service, therefore, if you feel that a child or young person is at immediate risk to themselves or others, please contact your GP, A&E department or call NHS 111.

Telling A Child / Young Person Someone Has Died From Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Sadly, we know that in the coming weeks many children and young people will face bereavement through Coronavirus. At CHUMS we support bereaved children and families and give advice and guidance to children about death and dying whatever the cause of death may be.

There are some complicating factors about deaths from COVID-19 that may affect children

  • Unpredictability:It’s not only very old, very frail people who are dying. The person they know may have been a little frail before they contracted the virus or they may have appeared perfectly well.
  • Suddenness:People may sicken and die quite rapidly; children will have little time to adjust to a rapidly changing future.
  • Distance:Children won’t be able to spend time with their dying relative, won’t be able to touch or hug them or even be in the same room.
  • Fear:People may react to the news that this person had died with instinctive fear rather than instinctive comfort.
  • Separation:Children and young people will be physically distant from those who might support them – friends, teachers, wider family.
  • Support structures:The current disruption of normal routine may mean children and young people have fewer places in which to switch off and focus on something else: for example, school, sports club, etc.
  • Anger:Children and young people may feel angry about things they perceive to have contributed to this death: people being slow to self-isolate, lack of ventilators etc.
  • Anxiety:While children and young people will worry about other family members dying after any death, in the present situation, such anxiety is sharper and less easy to soothe.
  • Lack of ‘specialness’:More and more people will be or will know someone affected by a death due to coronavirus. The death of a child’s important person won’t receive as much attention as before this crisis.
  • Constantly reminded:It will be hard for children to avoid hearing other stories of people affected by coronavirus.
  • Absence of rituals:With heavy restrictions on funerals, children and young people will have less chance to ‘say goodbye’ in a formal sense

Some of these factors can make it more complicated to talk about. For example, it will be harder to explain why their special person died, (when perhaps someone else with similar symptoms didn’t) as there is much still unknown about how the virus works. It may also feel harder to assure children that other people they know won’t die yet

Telling A Child

How hard this is. There is no way we can protect children from the pain of their reactions, however much we want to.

The following suggestions come from listening to children telling us what helps them. Children are very much aware of what is going on around them and if adults try to protect them too much, they may feel excluded.


  • Choose somewhere comfortable and familiar where it is possible to sit close together
  • Ideally a parent or carer will break the news
  • Be age appropriate
  • Be sensitive
  • Be truthful

Ways to explain

  • It is important when talking to children about the death of someone close, to use simple language, appropriate to the age of the child. Younger children may not be able to absorb much information whereas you may be able to tell older children much more.
  • Be honest, tell the truth but find a balance in telling the raw truth and being sensitive.
  • Do not use euphemisms such as ‘’gone to sleep’’ ‘’lost’’ or ‘’gone on a journey’’ as these will only confuse children and can lead to difficulties later. Use the words ‘’dead’ and ‘’died’’ explaining what these words mean if necessary. For instance, ‘’when someone dies, their body stops working, their heart no longer beats, and they will not come back to life.’’
  • Keep it simple. It is hard for children to take in too much information
  • Recognise that younger children will not have an understanding that death is permanent and may keep asking when the person is coming back.
  • Understand that children’s behaviour can often regress for a period of time, i.e. bed wetting, fear of the dark, being clingy, having tantrums etc
  • Be ready to answer questions and if you don’t know the answer, that’s okay to say you don’t know, if you are able to find out you can let them know later.
  • Check how much they have understood. You may need to repeat things over and over; be patient.
  • Encourage the sharing of thoughts and feelings.
  • Listen, accept and acknowledge their worries and emotions.
  • Let children know what has happened and what may happen next, i.e. funeral, memorial etc
  • There is no one right way of telling children difficult news, be open to their needs and do not be afraid of sharing your emotions – it helps them to understand their own.
  • Find ways of comforting each other.

Suggested ways of explaining

‘’I have something very sad to tell you….do you remember me telling you how Grandma was poorly and had a very serious illness….sadly even though the doctors and nurses did everything they could, Grandma’s illness was so serious that they could not make her better and she has died…’’

‘’Generally, people die when they are very old but occasionally people may die if they have a very serious illness or a bad accident.’’ 

‘’We all wish Grandma had not died and been able to live for many more years as we will miss her very much…but because of her serious illness her body was just not able to keep working…’’  

‘’When someone dies their body stops working completely… their heart stops beating, their lungs stop breathing and their brain stops working…and it can’t start again…some people believe that when someone dies their spirit / soul / spark that makes them unique goes on….heaven…Jannah…reincarnation…(whatever your family’s beliefs may be…’’

For Grieving Adults and Children

When someone you care about has died, you may experience many difficult and different feelings and emotions. You may feel shocked, sad, numb, angry, guilty, confused, anxious and disbelieving. It can at times feel overwhelming for you – remember these are all normal grief reactions – although they don’t feel normal, they may feel really painful.

Everyone experiences grief differently – there is no right or wrong way to grieve and you may notice that you don’t always feel the same as others in your family. Some people may show openly that they are feeling very affected by a death, whilst others appear to carry on as normal, however this does not mean they do not care or are not grieving too.

Grief is individual and has no time limit. You may not feel you need to seek support now but this might change in the future.

Remember to be extra kind to yourself and to others who are grieving at this time and for some time to come.

Children may show their grief through:

  • Changes in behaviours
  • Lack of concentration
  • Lack of confidence
  • Regression (wetting the bed, afraid of the dark)
  • Increased anxiety (separation anxiety)
  • Low self-esteem
  • Mood swings
  • Crying
  • Angry outbursts
  • Becoming withdrawn / isolated
  • Tiredness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Loss / increase in appetite
  • Self-harm
  • Substance abuse

All children and young people are individuals and may express their grief in different ways. Some may be very challenging and angry; others may be completely focussed on other things. Some may not want to acknowledge their grief, looking for normality instead, not wanting to be treated differently; others may require a lot of emotional support. Some may show their grief immediately, others not for weeks, months or even years, grief is an ongoing process.

How to help grieving children

  • Children need to receive extra love, reassurance and attention
  • Children need to feel safe. They need to know who is going to look after them. They need to stick to established routines and have firm boundaries.
  • Children need to feel involved. Do not shut them out thinking this is helping them.
  • Children need to be allowed to talk and be listened to. It can help them to see and hear adults expressing their feelings. This can help them to understand and express their own feelings.
  • Children need to be told that it is normal to feel pain, anger, guilt or relief.
  • Children need to be reminded it’s okay to laugh and to talk about memories.
  • Children may find it helpful to be creative by making a memory box, scrap book, draw, paint etc
  • Children may find it helpful to write down their thoughts, feelings or memories in a journal.
  • Children may find it helpful to listen to music.
  • Children may find it helpful to exercise.
  • Children need to be reminded that it’s okay to ask for help if they need it – talk to family, friends, GP, staff at school and support organisations.
  • Remind children that it’s also okay to go on living and enjoying life, having a good time does not mean they care less for the person who died 

CHUMS Support:

CHUMS is still delivering all services, albeit we are now working remotely and conducting appointments, engagements and calls online or via telephone.

If you have any queries, please make contact via our usual email address:  Our admin team will get back to you in due course.

All voicemails are still being picked up by our admin team, but please be aware this is not constantly monitored. All calls that are picked up will be answered in due course.

PLEASE NOTE: CHUMS is not an urgent response service, therefore, if you feel that a child or young person is at immediate risk to themselves or others, please contact your GP, A&E department or call NHS 111.


Guidance for Families Who May Not Be Able to Attend A Funeral

At the present time due to the coronavirus pandemic sadly many families will not be able to have the choices they normally would around funeral arrangements and this means that many adults, children and young people will not be able to attend the funeral of a loved one during this time.

Advice around funerals is constantly being updated; you can find the latest advice here:

As adults we are all finding it difficult to accept that the traditional funeral may not be possible at this time and so it is important to consider other ways of being able to say goodbye, share memorials and pay respects to the person who has died.

The following link takes you to a helpful resource about funerals. Please note number 5 on the list has many ideas for alternatives if you cannot attend or hold a service.

Including children in memorial services

We know that some families may normally have questions about whether children should attend a funeral. CHUMS often advises parents and carers that they know their children best; there is no right or wrong. However, from our experience it can often be helpful for children to be included if they would like to be, as long as they are given preparation beforehand as to what to expect.

For some children, especially younger ones, they may need some simple and basic information about what a funeral or memorial service is.

At present due to the coronavirus (COVID–19) pandemic it may be that those choices are limited, and it may not be possible for children and young people to attend. However, there are several ways to still have a special and meaningful memorial service.

Some people may choose to hold a memorial service at a later date for people who have sadly died during this period. This can give families time to carefully plan a special service and can include children and young people’s input and wishes.

For others it may be important to participate from home at the same time as a funeral is held, this may be done by live streaming, video calling family and friends in other places to enable them to participate and share together.

It may be that families can;

  • Light a candle
  • Have a photograph displayed
  • Choose a poem
  • Choose a piece of music
  • Write or record a tribute to be shared about the person who has died
  • Draw pictures

CHUMS Support:

CHUMS is still delivering all services, albeit we are now working remotely and conducting appointments, engagements and calls online or via telephone.

If you have any queries, please make contact via our usual email address:  Our admin team will get back to you in due course.

All voicemails are still being picked up by our admin team, but please be aware this is not constantly monitored. All calls that are picked up will be answered in due course.

PLEASE NOTE: CHUMS is not an urgent response service. Therefore, if you feel that a child or young person is at immediate risk to themselves or others, please contact your GP, A&E department or call NHS 111.

Pre-bereavement Books

  • When Someone has a Very Serious Illness Workbook by Marge Heegaard
  • As Big as It Gets – Winston’s Wish

Bereavement Books

  • ‘You Just Don’t Understand’ – Winston’s Wish
  • ‘Never too Young to Grieve’ – Winston’s Wish
  • ‘Muddles Puddles and Sunshine’ (Activity Book) – Winston’s Wish
  • ‘Is Daddy Comin Back in A Minute’ – Elke Barber
  • ‘What Happened to Daddy’s Body’ – Elke Barber
  • ‘Always and Forever’ – Debi Gliori
  • ‘No Matter What’ – Debi GIiori
  • ‘When someone Very Special Dies’ (workbook) by Marge Heegaard
  • ‘Water Bugs and Dragon Flies’ by Doris Stickney
  • ‘What on Earth Do You Do When Someone Dies?’ by Trevor Romain
  • ‘Milly’s Big Nut’ by Jill Janey
  • ‘I Miss You: A First Look at Death’ by Pat Thomas
  • ‘When Dinosaurs Die’ by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown
  • ‘Badgers Parting Gift’ by Susan Varley
  • ‘Michael Rosen’s Sad Book’ by Michael Rosen
  • ‘Finding a Way Through When Someone Has Died’ by Pat Mood & Lesley Whittaker
  • ‘Huge Bag of Worries’ by Virginia Ironside

Saying Goodbye When Someone Special Dies PDF –

Download Resources for Reintegrating Students Back to School Post COVID-19