Bereaved children less likely to talk about their worries

  • New analysis of over 13,000 children shows that those bereaved of a parent are more likely to keep their worries to themselves
  • Bereaved children need those around them to listen carefully to their fears and feelings
  • Campaigners are calling on local authorities and clinical commissioning groups to make sure that all children and their families can access high quality support, wherever they live and however they have been bereaved

New data we published today reveals that children bereaved of a parent are more likely to keep their fears and feelings to themselves, raising concerns about risks to their emotional health. We are reminding families, friends and those working with children that they can offer vital support simply by making time to listen.

Using data on over 13,000 11-year-old children in the Millennium Cohort Study, the analysis found that children whose mum or dad had died were more likely to keep their worries to themselves (28% compared to 21% of children whose parents were both still alive). They were less likely to talk to someone at home about their anxieties (60% compared to 72%) or to share their problems with a friend (28% compared to 40% of those not bereaved). 20% said they definitely didn’t show their emotions to others, compared to 11% of those who hadn’t been bereaved.

1 in 29 school age children in the UK have been bereaved of a parent or sibling – that’s around one in every classroom. We estimate that around 24,000 parents die each year leaving dependent children.

The findings are released to mark the start of the UK Children’s Grief Awareness Week (running from 17 to 23 November), which aims to raise awareness of grieving children and the support available to them. Coordinated by the Childhood Bereavement Network and Grief Encounter, and supported by organisations up and down the UK, the week is calling on everyone to #MakeTime2Listen to grieving children in our communities:

  • Friends and families can help children to understand that it’s ok to share their worries with someone they trust
  • Schools should have pastoral support in place to give pupils extra support following a death in the family
  • Local authorities and clinical commissioning groups should ensure that every local area has a specialist bereavement service for families to turn to if they need extra help
  • National government should adjust its plans for changes to bereavement benefits, so that widowed parents have the time they need to support their grieving children

Alison Penny, the Childhood Bereavement Network’s Coordinator, said:

‘Thankfully, the majority of children do tell someone about their fears and anxieties, whether they’ve been bereaved or not. But it’s of deep concern that bereaved children seem more reluctant to share their worries with family or friends. Often, they don’t want to upset family members who are grieving themselves so they try and protect their surviving parent by not showing their grief. Some report difficulties in their friendships following a death, with friends often just not knowing what to say. We already know that feeling they can’t talk to anyone is unhelpful for bereaved children’s emotional health, so It’s important for everyone in their lives to #MakeTime2Listen, helping them share their worries when they feel ready to talk and get support’.

Joanne Anning, Chair of the Childhood Bereavement Network said:

‘It’s really important for grieving children to know they have somewhere to turn: someone who will listen to them. All too often, they feel as if no-one understands what they are going through. They need their families, friends, teachers and communities to listen carefully to them, helping them feel understood and supported. Even if they haven’t got words to describe how they are feeling or thinking, family and friends can ‘listen’ to their body language and behaviour. A young person might not want to talk right now, but it’s helpful for them to know someone is there to listen when they are ready.

‘Parents and carers shouldn’t have to cope alone. Family, friends, colleagues, schools and the government all have a part to play in listening to grieving children. Specialist support services should be available in all local areas for all grieving children and their families who need them – wherever they live and however they have been bereaved – helping them to realise someone is listening.’

To get involved use the hashtags #ChildrensGriefAwareness and #MakeTime2Listen and visit: and

About the analysis
The data come from secondary analysis of the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), a longitudinal birth cohort study following a sample of children born in the UK in 2000/01[1]. These findings use data from the fifth sweep when the children were aged 11 (n=13,469) and in their last year of primary school. Cases were weighted to adjust for design features which resulted in oversampling of certain areas and groups, and for differential non-response rates.

To read the full report, click here.

About Children’s Grief Awareness Week
The Childhood Bereavement Network is teaming up with Grief Encounter and organisations across the country to coordinate activity throughout Children’s Grief Awareness Week (17 to 23 November 2015). The week incorporates international Children’s Grief Awareness Day on 17 November which was initiated in the US in 2008 by the Highmark Caring Place and has been taken up by organisations across the US and around the world.

[1] University of London. Institute of Education. Centre for Longitudinal Studies. (2015). Millennium Cohort Study: Fifth Survey, 2012. [data collection]. 2nd Edition. UK Data Service. SN: 7464,