Supporting children after sudden bereavement

Why is sudden death so challenging?

Every day thousands of children find out that someone that they love has died, be that a parent, sibling, grandparent or other significant family member, friend or carer.

For a child, any death is a sad and shocking event, regardless of the cause, but when someone dies suddenly and unexpectedly it can be particularly difficult.

When someone dies suddenly, there is no chance to prepare for the death, and no chance to say goodbye to a loved one.

A challenging bereavement could be due to:

  • a medical cause, such as COVID-19 or another rapidly advancing disease, or one of many unexpected medical causes, such as a stroke, heart attack, neo-natal death or stillbirth
  • an event, such as a road crash, homicide, alcohol/drug poisoning, or terrorist attack
  • suicide

Sudden death can be particularly traumatic for children and they are more likely to need support, including more specialised support.

Why do children need to be supported after a sudden bereavement?

It is really important that children who are bereaved suddenly are cared for and receive support, especially in the first days and weeks following their bereavement.

There is sound evidence to show that with the right support, children can make a good recovery, do well at school and go on to lead a happy, healthy life after experiencing a sudden bereavement.

There is also evidence to show that without early care, people who are bereaved suddenly or too soon are more likely to develop serious mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), prolonged grief disorder (PGD) or persistent complex bereavement disorder (PCBD).

A sudden bereavement has been linked to academic underachievement [1], increased risk of teenage pregnancy and youth offending.

After a bereavement, the support and routine that schools provide can be critical in helping a child’s recovery.


[1] Abdelnoor, A. and Hollins, S. 2004. The effect of childhood bereavement on secondary school performance. Educational Psychology in Practice. [Online]. 20 (1), pp. 43-54. [Accessed 17/06/2019]. Available from: