Nottingham City Educational Psychology Service

The coronavirus pandemic is having an impact on all of our settings, families, communities and way of life. This may bring a collective raised level of anxiety and uncertainty around the crisis. There is the additional complication of the nationwide closure of settings and the feeling of isolation this can bring. The current situation means that there is an increased risk of critical incidents both in the Early Years setting/school and the wider community. This document outlines key points for settings to consider where there is a bereavement of a member of the setting community i.e. a child, a child’s family member, or a member of setting staff.

  • An initial response process in the event of a critical incident to be adapted for your situation/context can be found here: Coronavirus: How Schools Can Support Children & Young People
  • Funerals: Current restrictions will affect practices around funerals, which may create extra stress and challenges for families and others who are grieving. Supportive guidance is available here
  • Fear and anxiety about Coronavirus: Young children will have questions about the effects of the virus. For those who have had someone important die or have a member of their family who is ill, their anxiety is likely to be heightened. Fears may include someone else dying, someone becoming ill and unable to look after them, or fears of themselves becoming ill and/or dying. It is important to give students clear facts that are age-appropriate whilst offering reassurance. Guidance for parents/carers to share these difficult messages and other helpful resources are available here in the Nottingham City document ‘Information to Support Children and Young People during the Coronavirus Outbreak'

Winston's Wish: How to Tell a Child That Someone Has Died from Coronavirus

Winston's Wish: Coronavirus - Supporting Bereaved Children and Young People

  • Isolation: Setting closures and current government guidance mean many people are isolated at home away from their usual support networks. Consider how the setting may be able to support a feeling of connectedness for bereaved families such as: Mutual Aid UK.

Information to share with staff:

  • Share information with staff about typical responses to bereavement and how to manage this while recognising that this is a new situation for all of us. Please refer to the Nottingham City Critical Incident Grief and Loss pack (please see flowchart at the end of the document).
  • Information that can be shared with parents about how to explain death to young children:

Explaining to Young Children that Someone has Died

What Helps Grieving Children

Helping Your Toddler Cope with Grief and Death

Communicating key messages:

  • Who will contact the family to offer condolences on behalf of the setting, signpost to resources or support and remain as a point of contact as needed
  • How will you communicate information to staff? What messaging systems are available? Who will lead on this?
  • How will you communicate information regarding bereavement if necessary to children? Will you contact the parents only? Plan a script that expresses regret and reduces anxiety. Further examples of scripts can be found in the Nottingham City Critical Incident Grief and Loss pack.
  • How do you normally communicate with parents? Will this still be appropriate?

Liaison with the family affected:

  • What are the family’s wishes about how this news should be shared and who with?
  • How would the family like to be contacted by the setting (e.g. telephone, text message)?
  • How would the family like to receive messages of condolence from the setting community (e.g. directly; setting staff to pass these onto the family)? When might they like this to happen?

Identify vulnerable children and staff

  • How will you identify those who may be more vulnerable following a bereavement? Who will do this? Use your key worker approach to follow up regularly with those children/families during setting closure.
  • As some staff members may be more vulnerable in this situation, ensure that you have support systems in place, e.g. how staff can support each other.
  • Consider the use of typical support networks. National agencies such as Cruse counselling, Winston's Wish, and Marie Curie offer free support for professionals to access (helplines, online). At a Loss helps people to find support appropriate to their situation.
  • The Educational Psychology Service is also offering staff supervision/support to settings free of charge whilst educational provisions are closed. Contact for more details.

Information is available here on Children’s Understanding of Death at Different Ages

Babies and Under 2s:

  • Although children this age do not yet understand death, they may be distressed by changes in their environment and by the emotional withdrawal of a caregiver following a bereavement.

Children Aged 2-5 Years:

  • Children may talk about death and use the word ‘dead’ but do not understand it. As young children do not have a sense of ‘permanence’, they may think death is reversible and not final.
  • Children this age tend to interpret what they are told in a literal way. It is very important for adults to be mindful of their use of language and avoid phrases such as ‘gone to sleep’. It is better to use factual terms such as ‘died’ and ‘dead’. All adults should try to use the same language and messages to provide consistency.
  • As children this age have ‘egocentric thinking’ and ‘magical thinking’, they may believe that their thoughts or actions caused what happened and need reassurance that they are not to blame.
  • Children may ask the same questions repeatedly and need repeated explanations. It is important to be as honest and factual as you can, bearing in mind their level of understanding. It is OK to say, ‘I don’t know’.
  • Children may fear that something may happen to their caregiver. Children may become distressed when leaving their parents as they fear that something may happen to them.
  • Children may show ‘clingy’ behaviour, separation anxiety, disturbed sleep, and developmental regression (e.g. disrupted toileting)
  • Some children may display behaviour changes and experience emotions such as sadness and anger. This is a normal response. It is important for adults to name and normalise emotions and reassure them that feeling this way is OK. Books such as the Colour Monster can support with this.

‘How to explain coronavirus’ for children at home

Coronavirus: How to Explain it to Very Young Children

Tips for Families: Coronavirus

Washy washy clean song

  • Consider how to commemorate the child and for their peers to share condolences in an age-appropriate way (e.g. collecting photos, drawings) which can be sent to the family or collated and created into a display
  • Share information and resources about grief with the family e.g. books and websites detailed below.
  • When setting reopens, further commemorations can be considered, e.g. tree planting.

  • Ideas are available here for Supporting bereaved children under 5 years of age
  • Consider how key staff who work closely with the child can reach out to offer their condolences and support to the family (e.g. staff may wish to write them a card/letter).
  • If a child is bereaved, other children may wish to mark this in an age-appropriate way, e.g. create a picture for them. The setting can liaise with the family about how they might like to receive these condolences.
  • Identify key members of staff who may be best placed to offer ongoing support for the family.
  • Consider how support may be offered remotely (e.g. via video call)
  • Ideas for activities to explore with a young child who has experienced bereavement include the following:

    1. Make a treasure box where the child can keep all the special items that remind them of the person
    2. Let them keep something that belonged to the person who died, such as an item of clothing
    3. Share happy stories about the person who has died and talk about them
    4. Look through old photographs or videos
    5. Make a scrapbook together about the person who has died
    6. Start a journal of memories that can be added to by anyone at any time. This may help children who have lost someone at a young age to remember the person who has died as they grow up.
    7. For children struggling to separate from carers, create a handkerchief with the adult’s fingerprints or handprints on it, and maybe even spray it with scent. This can help them feel that their carer is close to them and safe. They may like to keep a comfort object (e.g. blanket, teddy) with them.

  • Identify how the news should be shared within the setting community.
  • Be mindful of extra support needed for children who are particularly close with the staff member, e.g. keyworker children.
  • Consider how the setting community may wish to offer condolences to their family.
  • Consider ways to support wider staff resilience during setting closures, for example:
    1. Supporting one another through phone contact
    2. Promoting help-seeking from managers
    3. Using online technology to create a ‘virtual staffroom’ where staff can chat and check-in
    4. Creating ‘buddy networks’ so staff have a small network of individuals they can contact when needed
  • Be mindful that staff may find it difficult to achieve ‘closure’ on the loss of a colleague in the current situation.
  • Consider how the loss may be commemorated when the setting reopens.
  • Signpost staff as needed to support agencies, e.g. Cruse, Winston's Wish, and Marie Curie

  • The coat I wear by Mel Maxwell and Michelle Stewar
  • The Memory Tree by Britta Teckentrup (suitable for ages 3-5
  • Water bugs and dragonflies: explaining death to young children by Doris Stickne
  • The Day the Sea Went out and Never Came Back by Margot Sunderland (suitable for ages 4-12
  • When Dinosaurs Die by Laurie Krasny-Brown and Marc Brown (suitable for ages 4-8
  • Is Daddy Coming Back in a Minute? By Elke Barber & Alex Barb
  • The Invisible String by Patrice Karst and Joanne Lew-Vriethoff (suitable for ages 4-7
  • Missing Mummy by Rebecca Cobb (suitable for ages 3-6
  • I Miss My Sister and My Brother and Me by Sarah Courtaul
  • Muddles, Puddles and Sunshine: Your Activity Book to Help When Someone Has Died by Diana Crossley and Kate Sheppard (suitable for ages 5-7
  • When Someone Special Dies (under 7s)

Books targeted at a specific audience

  • Where students who have peers with pre-existing health conditions, it may be helpful to read and talk through Goodbye Daisy by Stephanie Nimmo.

If books are required to reach a large number, teachers can record themselves reading the story and share it with children via email or YouTube.

Helpful books & resources for adults about child grief

  • Never too young to know: death in children’s lives by Phyllis Silverman
  • Grief in children: a handbook for adults by Atle Dyregrov
  • A child’s grief: supporting a child when someone in their family has died by Di Stubbs (Winston’s Wish)
  • As big as it gets: supporting a child when a parent is seriously ill by Julie A. Stokes (Winston’s Wish)

Help and support for children and young people who experience bereavement is best provided by a trusted,
familiar adult as and when it is needed. In time, most children and adults will come to terms with what has happened without the need for professional counselling. It is not usually necessary for immediate counselling to bereaved families – grief is a normal process and whilst there is no one process of grieving for all, those experiencing loss should be reassured that the emotions they are feeling are valid.

If feelings remain overwhelming and there is an absence of normality after a period of time, it may be appropriate for counselling or similar support to be recommended. During this time of isolation, it may be helpful to identify help earlier for those that are less supported in the community.

In the event of a critical incident, Nottingham City Educational Psychology Service will offer support to the setting’s staff and management team. The approach taken is founded on helping schools and other settings to build capacity to manage the immediate aftermath of an event. This includes advice and support around communication, practical arrangements, and managing emotions. We offer the following: