image description

Supporting bereaved children of military families

Supporting bereaved children of military families

Any sudden death is a devastating event for children. When the death is that of a member of the Armed Forces there are additional difficulties to come to terms with and it is essential to understand the context of military life to make sense of these. Although the risk of death is understood by anyone in the armed forces, this does not make the news of a death any easier to bear. In addition, the family may have to cope with the traumatic nature of a death in a combat situation as well as intense media interest. Private grief may become very public property and families may feel overwhelmed.

With timely information, advice and practical ideas to compliment the efforts of parents, carers, teachers, professionals and other agencies supporting a child or young person, children can come through these difficult times. The challenge for families and professionals is to try and help children feel involved, and understand enough to reach a time when they remember the person’s life more than the way they died.

Throughout this section we provide information that will be helpful to families and also professionals who come into contact with children and young people from military families who have been bereaved.  Learn more about what happens when a member of the Armed Services dies.

Experiences for families following a military death
A death in the armed forces can be difficult to understand and make sense of for children, it is also very much in the public eye, making it difficult to find ways to say goodbye. More information on this can be found in experiences.

Explaining a death in service to children and young people
Many adults find it difficult to talk about death with children and it can be tempting to shield them from pain. However, it is really important that children have a clear understanding that the person has died. Even young children need to know what has happened to someone important in their lives if they are not coming back. Nothing you can say will make it worse – the worst has already happened.

It is also a natural reaction to want to spare children from learning how the death happened by making up some other explanation. However, when there has been a death in service, the media will be involved and the story will become public knowledge. It is much better that children and young people hear the news from you in a calm and accurate way rather than from rumour or from another child in the playground. See more information on Explaining a death in service to children and young people and  Talking to children about death.

Why does a death in the Armed Services differ from other types of bereavement?
A death in action far from home in violent circumstances is an added layer of complexity, especially if the person who died has already been away for a long time. Bereaved military families face an added level of difficulty around the issues of funerals and other memorials and may feel the military system takes over when they would prefer to take control for themselves. Private grief becomes public property and although many families value the respect shown to their loved one, there can be the sense of not being in control. See more information on :Why does a death in the Armed Services differ from other types of bereavement?

Feelings and thoughts
There are many complicated feelings and thoughts that children and adults experience following a death in the armed forces. For more information about some of these emotions and thoughts, please see Feelings and thoughts.

Other sources of information
Other organisations that provide information and support for families bereaved by a death in the armed forces can be found by downloading Sources of information & Support below.

Help for Heroes
Help for Heroes has provided funding since October 2010 to enable Winston’s Wish to offer a bereavement support programme for children and young people from military families across the UK affected by the death of a parent or sibling.  You can download the leaflet Supporting bereaved children of military families below.

Scotty’s Little Soldiers
Scotty’s Little Soldiers is a charity dedicated to supporting bereaved British Forces children.  The Support programme is focused on helping the children and their families deal with life following the loss of a loved one, and Strides is dedicated to giving Scotty Members opportunities to help with their personal development such as educational grants, work experience opportunities and activities such as music, driving and swimming lessons.

Cobseo, the Confederation of Service Charities
Winston’s Wish is a member of Cobseo.  The Stated objectives of Cobseo are to represent, promote and further the interest of the Armed Forces Community.