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How to help bereaved military children manage stress after the death of a parent


The death of a parent is a hugely stressful life event for bereaved children. Military children often face additional stressors, such as being forced to relocate and becoming disconnected from their military community and friendship group.

The stress and grief faced by bereaved military children can manifest in a variety of ways, including but not limited to: difficulty concentrating, sleeping problems, separation anxiety and changes in behaviour – such as becoming withdrawn or aggressive.

Here are some ways that parents, caregivers, and other adults can offer support and help bereaved children manage stress and grief following the death of a military parent.

Managing grief

Let bereaved children know that it is normal and natural to feel sad, angry, confused, or scared after the death of a parent. Avoid minimising or dismissing their emotions, telling them to "be strong" or "everything happens for a reason". Instead, encourage them to express their feelings in healthy ways, such as talking, writing, drawing, or physical activity.

Providing security and routine

A stable routine and sense of security are very important for children who have experienced a traumatic bereavement like the death of a parent. Try to maintain their daily schedules and activities as much as possible, and provide them with consistent care and attention. Try to avoid making major changes or decisions that might disrupt their lives further, unless absolutely necessary.

Practical and emotional bereavement support

Listen to any concerns and questions, and answer them honestly and sensitively. Provide children with information and resources that can help them better understand their bereavement, such as books, websites, or support groups. Be there for them, spend quality time with them and, if possible, contact organisations like Scotty’s Little Soldiers, where they can connect with other bereaved military children who share their experiences and can help them feel less isolated. Click here to get support.

Staying connected to their military parent

Help bereaved children keep a positive, meaningful connection with their parent by creating new traditions and doing things which honour and celebrate their life. For example, you could help them make a scrapbook or memory box with photos, messages and mementos of their parent, visit their grave or a special place that reminds them of their parent, and participate in activities or hobbies that their parent enjoyed. You can also help bereaved children commemorate important dates, such as their parent's birthday or the anniversary of their death by doing something meaningful or fun together.

Coping skills

Children who have experienced the death of a military parent may also struggle with fears of losing other loved ones. They may feel complicated and difficult emotions about their parent's death – both of which can create further stress. To help them overcome these challenges and deal with their grief, you can teach coping skills and relaxation techniques like visualisation and slow breathing exercises to reduce stress and anxiety. You could also help by gently encouraging them to pursue interests and passions where they can focus their energy.

About Scotty’s

Scotty’s Little Soldiers is a military charity dedicated to supporting children and young people (0 to 25 years) who have experienced the death of a parent who served in the British Armed Forces.    

Inspired by the experience of Army widow Nikki Scott, following the death of her husband Corporal Lee Scott in Afghanistan in 2009, the charity, which was set up in 2010, provides support and guidance to hundreds of bereaved military children and young people throughout their childhood.    

Scotty’s currently support over 650 bereaved military children and young people. Services offered include access to child bereavement support, guidance to parents and carers, personal education and learning assistance (including grants), and fun activities such as holiday respite breaks and group events. These are all designed to remind the children and young people supported by Scotty’s that they are not alone.    

If you know a child or young person who has experienced the death of a parent who served in the British Armed Forces, they could be eligible for specialist bereavement support from Scotty's Little Soldiers. Hundreds of bereaved military children aren’t getting the support they need but we are here to help.  

If you know a bereaved military child who could benefit from Scotty’s Little Soldiers support, visit our Get Support page for more information.


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