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Newsround and bereavement

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Sinead Rocks | 16:05 UK time, Friday, 13 March 2009

The death of a loved one can be a life-changing experience and one that can be difficult to deal with at any age. For children - it is arguably even more harrowing.

Newsround logoWhen we first considered making a Newsround special on how children cope with bereavement, we immediately sought the advice of a clinical psychologist.

He backed up our suggestion that it can be even harder for young people to deal with because many children aren't as emotionally equipped to handle loss as adults.

Young people don't always know about support services and they can often give the impression of having "got over it" when in reality they are simply bottling up their emotions.

Using this guidance as a starting point and after consulting with a number of charities - we ran a short item on our programme asking children who have suffered bereavement and who would be willing to share their stories to get in touch.

We weren't sure if anyone would respond so were somewhat taken aback when lots of children contacted us.

The research stage of the project was tricky - we needed children and their guardians to understand what getting involved in the programme would mean.

We'd be asking about very personal issues and reminding children of difficult times with cameras and lights pointed at them. Not an easy ask.

Some children we spoke to were clearly still traumatised by their experiences so after long discussions with them and their families we ruled them out.

Our overriding objective was always to make a programme that could benefit children - not traumatise them further.

Which is how we ended up focusing on Joe, Bradley, Sarika and Katie. They range in age from eight to 11 and each of them has lost someone close to them.

Putting the programme together has been an intensely moving experience for the team. It's not easy listening to what these children have to say but each of them was adamant that by sharing their experiences - they felt they could help other children facing similar circumstances.

And actually, on balance, it's not at all depressing. There's definite uplift and inspiration in each of their tales and this is what we want our audience to hear.

We have put a considerable amount of work into covering bereavement responsibly with the overall intention of offering guidance and support on a subject that is rarely tackled or discussed in children's programmes.

Watch it if you can and let us know what you think.

UPDATE, 6 April: The programme has now been broadcast and you can watch it below:

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Sinead Rocks is editor of Newsround


  • Comment number 1.

    I know that whenever i see the word Newsround i will see a programme that is well put together and giving clear and simple reporting

  • Comment number 2.


    Thanks to the NewsRound team for the producing an excellent programme on bereavement and its effects on children...

    ~Dennis Junior~

  • Comment number 3.

    As a child I experienced a fair few bereavements both close to me at the age of five, and in my extended family, from nine upwards. I cannot remember needing to "share" any of them since the activity was never divorced from everyday life. This "matter of fact" way seemed commonplace in those of my friends who also suffered deaths in their close families.

    At five I remember feeling the sense of sadness, of sobriety and profound seriousness on the day of the funeral. I was given the choice of attending the funeral or not. I remember the explanations now and whilst I could not swear to the level of my comprehension at the time I was aware that death was final, sometimes relieving but often cruel to those left behind. I do not recall knowing too much of the religious ceremony of burial or cremation itself. Much of my vivid memory relates to cold rooms, and cold days. Perhaps I had a sense of loneliness, because other people had other things on their minds, and so the cold, dark, grey rooms were about my feelings of temporary isolation.

    By the time my mother died from cancer when I was thirty my understanding of loss was very different to that experienced as a child. I had grieved my mother long before she died, as soon as doctors confirmed her condition was terminal.

    The hardest funeral was my father's who had remarried following my mother's death. There was much bad blood between the two families involved and because I had stuck up for my father's second wife (I never felt she was my step mum) I was forced into a corner over where my allegiance lay. I felt it summed up my father's coldness towards his own family something he demonstrated as much in life as in death.

    My experiences tend to make me believe that we should not emphasise the difficulties a death can cause, since children are very well able to deal with it without a lot of support. Provided death is framed within the correct parameters (as a necessary part of all our lives) it is not as frightening or as difficult as it may seem to children's caring adults. One thing that did make it easier for me to understand was the deaths of many "pets" in our family, from frogs, toads, insects, birds, cats and dogs. Somehow it put it all in a context.

    I am looking forward to seeing how the program pans out.

  • Comment number 4.

    I think you are morally in the gutter. This is exploitation and I don’t know how you sleep at night. By all means ask an adult to think back on such an experience from their childhood but do not add to the pressure on these vulnerable children by parading them on national television in this way.

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.


    Although some may find your comment a little strong, to me it touches a crucial part of our difficulties as a race. As my penultimate paragraph intimates, death and grief are highly personal matters and should NOT be aired in the public domain when the subjects are children or minors.

    We are hardly very successful as a species in understanding how our minds work and there have been suspect developments in psychology over a number of years as a result. One of these has been the rise of post traumatic stress as a method of congregating some clearly unconnected traumas into a "catch all" group. The original PTS groups were framed to develop "treatment methods" rather than to create a "specific illness requiring treatment", and the problem has been the almost infinite number of stress creating traumas a human being can suffer in their lives. PTS is almost always caused by a number of stress issues colliding with each other at a time when the subject is already vulnerable. It is most obvious when the subject is close to mental and physical exhaustion, and there are too many possible demonstrations of symptoms for it to be easily diagnosed outside of these key indicators. And yet that is what we do - look for problems where they probably do not exist.

    For a child to find it hard to cope with the death of someone close there have to be other unresolved issues and my concern is that this program is not equipped (or qualified) to deal with such matters. It is certainly wrong to suggest that a close person's death is something "hard to cope with" since it cannot be avoided by any of us. As such we already have the mechanisms present to deal with it as "a matter of fact". But the key here is that "coping with death is highly personal" and that a program like this is trying to explain the inexplicable. It is attempting to pass on information that will NEVER fit anyone else's life. That is irresponsible.

    As I have already suggested I am looking forward to seeing how the program does what it claims and I will make further comment after it is shown.

  • Comment number 7.

    The overreaction by the media to Jade Goody's illness and tragic death is a tacit demonstration of how our news people have joined the dumb down lobby. In essence it majors on a thesis that Jade Goody = anyone who dies young from (cervical if it fits) cancer. Jade is put up as an icon and yet the vast majority of people who die from cancer (at any age) receive nothing like the intervention Miss Goody had. Any death may be tragic, or have tragic consequences, if the media bothered to investigate them.

    So these young children represent exactly what BBC?

  • Comment number 8.

    Your comments and decisions in my view could help so many children. It is a brave thing to do.

    Although for many not on the same scale at all as a loved person, my grandson lost his dog a few years ago. She was a big black greyhound, so gentle, they wandered everywhere together for all the years he was growing up. It is hard to remember a time when they were not together they shared fun, weather and food even lolly pops, they even fought over packets of crisps. We could find out when something bothered him as if he would not tell us he told the dog.

    Unfortunately he was there when she accidentally banged her head and died.

    His devastation was awful to watch, he felt he had lost his whole world, we could not help we had no way of knowing how.

    A programme like this may also help parents and relatives help children through dark days.

    Good luck I know this will be a programme I will watch.

  • Comment number 9.

    My friend died when I was 13 and I didn't get any support. That was in the 1980's.

    Anything that helps demolish the British 'stiff upper lip' is good to me. It is improving but it seems a lot of people are scared of death or indeed difficult emotions. My parents are pretty bad with their emotions, any difficult emotions were always frowned upon in my childhood, needless to say it messed me up.

    Still I don't blame them, but it's good that the 'stiff upper lip' is dying! Hurrah!

  • Comment number 10.

    Why do programmes like this always consult 'Psychologists'? Psychology has little to say about death, loss and bereavement which are essentially social experiences. It is often the relationship between the 'bereaved' child and the person as they are dying and how the child is prepared by other members of the family for the death, that are critical? Does the child have a significant other, a person, friend, family or teacher, whose advice, counsel or love and support means sufficient to that child to counteract the sense of loss, the pain of losing a loved one. Note how adults handle the impact of school shooting incidents and how differently the kids cope? Note also how readily most kids 'recover' from loss and learn from the experience. A dying is not always a bad thing for children around the dying person but how it is handled by adults can be a disaster.

  • Comment number 11.

    I shall try to watch the programme, but in the meantime I want to commend Russelide for questioning why Newsround first turns to "psychologists" (their "discipline" may be the current "popular science" but largely lacks any rigour, is often a stranger to ethics, and largely consists of self-promoting pundits simply voicing under-informed opinions, so having "consulted" one is absolutely no protection from causing harm), and then point out that the psychologists and various "expert" charities consulted seem to have failed to provide two vital pieces of information: that there are genetic and cultural reasons why people, including children, vary considerably in how much and how long we are affected by traumatic events, and indeed what we find traumatic, and that it is misleading to isolate death as a trauma in this way. Many other events can have as much effect as death in those vulnerable - losing someone in other ways, loss of a home, violence, loss of a hope, infertility, witnessing others experience such events, etc.. Wrongly focusing on death, and failing to explain that individual people mat react in different ways over which they have no control, may promote guilt in those who have coped well with it, but also hurt those who have suffered other traumas.


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