How to support children with bereavement and loss

How to support children with bereavement and loss

Industry expert, Tamsin Grimmer shares her valuable advice and  guidance for tackling the most sensitive of subjects.

“I know Grandad is dead, but when will we see him again?”

After my father passed away, one of the hardest questions I was asked by my, then, pre-school-aged daughter was, “When will we see him again?” Not only did this bring back painful memories but it was difficult not to feel frustrated when I had to answer my child, honestly and repeatedly, that they wouldn’t see Grandad again. As children do not understand the permanence of death until about 5 years old, it is quite common for children to ask the same questions over and over and in doing so they are trying to reassure themselves, so we must answer consistently each time in order to offer the security they are seeking.

Sadly, death is a part of life and according to ChildBereavementUK a parent of children under 18 dies every 22 minutes in the UK. I’m sure that the recent pandemic has increased this shocking statistic even further, so it stands to reason that unfortunately many children in our care will lose a loved one. Therefore, we need to be prepared to talk with our children about death and what this means.

Death is a very abstract concept and talking in terms of concrete things that children might understand can help. For example, “When we are dead, we do not breathe, our heart stops beating and we cannot play anymore.” Whether or not you are religious might also have an impact on how you want to talk about it. In my Christian tradition, we believe in heaven so when talking with my own children about death, I have referred to this, however, it is important that we do not confuse children with the phrases we use. So try to avoid using analogies like ‘falling asleep’ or ‘at rest’. These can lead to misconceptions about what this means or even lead to them becoming frightened of resting or sleeping themselves. Instead, we should factually explain about life cycles and that every living thing will die one day. We can reassure them that we might feel sad and miss the person who died, but we have lots of lovely, happy memories we can share and possibly photographs to look at to help us to remember their life. We also need to ensure that we offer plenty of opportunities for the child to talk about how they feel, but if they don’t want to talk, don’t make them.


Key principles when supporting children with bereavement:

  • Be as honest as possible with your child and use terms that are factual and portray information, avoiding the potential for misunderstandings. Use correct language, e.g. dead, death, dying, died, buried etc. and encourage your child to have their own narrative about it.
  • Remember that a bereavement brings children a lot of uncertainty, so try to ensure that changes in your home are kept to a minimum. Familiar surroundings can help a child to remain feeling safe and secure.
  • Never be offended or affronted by the directness of a young child’s questions and comments. They are trying to fathom the unfathomable and we need to remain sensitive to their needs, even if they appear to be insensitive themselves.
  • Children’s behaviour may regress after a bereavement, for example by wetting themselves, thumb sucking or becoming excessively clingy to a carer. We must offer understanding, reassurance and security at this time and not chastise these behaviours. They will pass with time as the child feels more safe and secure.
  • Family rituals around death should be explained to children and, whenever possible, children should be given the choice about attending services of remembrance, funerals, burials and cremations.

It is also quite common for grieving children to move in and out of grief quickly and when children are focused on their grief for one moment then appear to have totally forgotten about it, we call this ‘puddle jumping’.

Lastly, children can experience bereavement and feelings of loss for other reasons, such as a parent leaving, or a sibling moving away. Some professionals have suggested that during the current pandemic we are all grieving the loss of our former lives. When we return to our settings, things will be different, changes will have been made and this will have a big impact on our children. So be prepared to support your children with feelings of bereavement and loss in the future.


Some ideas of how to appropriately support children in thinking about death include:

  • Have an ethos of permission in your home so that words like ‘dead’ and ‘die’ are not banned from your vocabulary but instead prompt discussion.
  • Answer any questions about the death as honestly as possible, remembering that it’s OK to say, “I don’t know!”
  • Don’t talk about death or the person who has died over children’s heads – instead include the child in the conversation.
  • Do not avoid talking about your loved one or hide your own grief. Try to be honest about how you feel and why, e.g. “I am crying because I am sad. I am sad because Grandad has died and I won’t see him again. Can you give me a cuddle and perhaps we can talk about our favourite things we used to do with him.”
  • Use playful interactions as a means of exploring death, for example, play at doctors and nurses or superheroes.
  • Read stories and books which include death or deal with bereavement and grief (e.g. “Waterbugs and Dragonflies”, by D. Stickney, “The Invisible String” , by P. Karst.)
  • Storytelling – make up stories in which a character dies or undergoes changes, or provide opportunities for children to make up their own stories.
  • Introduce children to the idea of life cycles, for example butterflies. You could even raise some tadpoles from frogspawn or butterflies from caterpillars.
  • Think about changes over time in the natural world e.g. growth and decay.
  • Share some memories about your loved one, perhaps light a candle, look at some photos and reminisce about the good times you shared together.


    About the author

    Tamsin GTamsin Grimmer photo2rimmer is an experienced early years consultant and trainer and parent who is passionate about young children’s learning and development. She believes that all children deserve practitioners who are inspiring, dynamic, reflective and committed to improving on their current best. Tamsin particularly enjoys planning and delivering training and supporting early years practitioners and teachers to improve outcomes for young children.

    Tamsin has written two books – Observing and Developing Schematic Behaviour in Young Children and School Readiness and the Characteristics of Effective Learning.

    You can contact Tamsin via Twitter @tamsingrimmer, her Facebook pagewebsite or email

Promoting positive behaviour in pre-school children

Promoting positive behaviour in pre-school children

At some point over the next few weeks or months you should, hopefully, get to reopen your childcare settling after it has been closed for the COVID-19 lockdown.

Having been at home for some weeks with a different routine or a lack of routine, young children are going to need support to find their way back into the routine of life at your childcare setting. They are likely to feel anxious, unsettled, tearful as they leave their primary carers for the first time in weeks. Their carers may well be feeling the same.

You know that the best thing you can do to support these children is to gradually settle them back into a routine with you. Along the way, though, you are likely to see some challenging behaviour as children find the way to express the big emotions they will be experiencing.

Below are some tips for help promote positive behaviour at a time that is going to be particularly challenging for all.


Help children develop self-regulation

Self-regulation is the ability to understand and manage your behaviour and your reactions to feelings and things happening around you.

For young children, this means they will be able to better control their reactions to emotions like frustration, anger or excitement. They will be able to calm down after finding something upsetting, and they will learn behaviour that helps them get along with other people. It also means they will have the attention skills to focus on a task. Children are really going to need to draw on these skills when childcare settings reopen. We all will. The best way to help children self-regulate is to support them by:

  • Talking about emotions. There are many visual prompts that you can use to support this such as emotions cards, a mirror to look in, and different faces. Teach these in a circle time and, if there Is an incident, talk to the child about how they were feeling at the time.
  • Naming the feeling. When your child struggles with a strong feeling, say to them “I can see that you are feeling angry”. Once they have calmed down, support them in labelling the emotion themselves.
  • Teaching children a strategy to follow if they are feeling a particularly strong emotion. It might be that you have a quiet corner that they can visit to calm down, seek adult help or use a calming sensory toy.
  • Remembering to be patient – it can be very hard for young children to cope when they have strong feelings.

Use positive attention.

  • Use attention to encourage the behaviour that you want. Catch children doing something brilliant and praise them – your attention is a big reward for a child. If a child behaves in a particular way and gets your attention, they are likely to behave that way again.
  • Children won’t always behave in the way that you would like them to. The trick is to pay more attention to the behaviour that you do want to see, and less to the behaviour that you don’t want to see. Basically, giving positive attention increases the likelihood of you seeing that behaviour again in the future.
  • When faced with challenging behaviour, stay calm. If you show an extreme emotion then this is both interesting for the child, plus children will copy this and react to it.
  • Going back to the subject of self-regulation, always offer praise where a child self-regulates well. This will be particularly important in your first few days of reopening.

Plan for challenging situations

If you know that you have a situation coming up that is going to be particularly challenging for one or two children, then plan for it. For some children with additional needs, this might be the change of routine that comes with a one off day event, or the sensory overload that a child might experience in a supermarket.

For occasions such as this you can pre-empt any behaviour challenges by preparing a child for what is to come. Use visuals to talk them through their day so that they know what to expect. This reduces anxiety, and therefore reduces negative behaviour. You can prepare for sensory overload by offering headphones or limiting the amount of time that child is exposed to the sensation.

Taking small steps such as these will make a big difference to the anxiety levels of certain children and therefore make the whole day calmer and happier for everyone.

Reopening your setting is going to be such a joyous occasion for many reasons, but there is no doubt that it will also be met with mixed emotions, especially if things aren’t quite back to normal. You are very equipped to help children settle back in though. Simply having an understanding of how they are feeling is half the battle towards helping them feel better. Wishing you all the best.


About the author

Gina SmithGina Smith is an experienced teacher with experience of teaching in both mainstream and special education. She is the creator of ‘Create Visual Aids’ – a business that provides both homes and education settings with bespoke visual resources. Gina recognises the fact that no two children are the same and therefore individuals are likely to need different resources. Create Visual Aids is dedicated to making visual symbols exactly how the individual needs them.



Three ways to reduce meltdowns

Three ways to reduce meltdowns

Tantrums can be frustrating. However, it’s important to realise that they are part of a child’s development and a reflection of their struggle to regulate big and overwhelming emotions. A child’s brain is not equipped with the ability to regulate big feelings, therefore when they go into meltdown, children need our help to bring themselves back to a state of calm. If we can see a tantrum as a child struggling, rather than displaying ‘poor’ behaviour, we can then approach these meltdowns from a more understanding and positive angle. Tantrums are inevitable and in my opinion, children shouldn’t be made to feel like they are unacceptable. However, these 3 steps have helped to reduce their frequency and duration with my own children:

1) Acknowledge their feelings

A child may seem to be having a meltdown about something that we perceive to be trivial. However, it’s important to remember that problems are relative. What upset us deeply at 15 years old wouldn’t impact us the same way as an adult. As we grow up, we gain more responsibility and our problems get bigger. If we take this idea right down to the age of a toddler, it therefore makes sense that the things that upset them deeply are going to seem tiny through the eyes of an adult. Simply acknowledging the situation that has caused a child’s meltdown, validating their feelings and telling them that their reaction is okay can make a huge difference. It probably won’t stop the tantrum because once a child loses it, quite often they aren’t capable of bringing themselves back. However, knowing that you are there to support them will make them feel safe and will help them to come around a lot quicker.


2) Share your calm and be patient

Facing a tantrum with anger will only ever make it worse. A child’s behaviour might not have been acceptable leading up to their meltdown and that can be addressed later. However, at the time that a child loses it, they are incapable of even hearing what you say to them. Their emotional brain has taken over and their ability to think or talk is usually lost. At this point, regardless of the behaviour leading up to this, they need our help to regulate. It is only then that you will be able to talk through their actions and get the opportunity to teach them a better way. When a child is acting chaotically, they need us to share our calm. Joining the chaos will do nothing but escalate the situation. If we want children to deal with things in life in a balanced way, we need to model this with our own actions. This doesn’t mean that a child always gets their own way though! We can set and teach boundaries whilst still supporting them through their emotions.

An example of this was when my daughter was just 2 years old. She had the ability to dart off, so going into places like supermarkets was difficult because I thought I might lose her. One day, I told her that I needed to keep her safe so she had to choose whether she wanted to hold my hand or to wear a little backpack that I could hold. She didn’t like either of these options and went into complete meltdown. Now in this moment, it can be hard for parents because it all feels very much out of control (plus you get glared at by passers-by which adds more pressure!) There’s the tendency to think that a tantrum is ‘bad’ behaviour and that she just wanted her own way. The truth is that she did want her own way, but rather than get angry, I tried to understand the situation from her perspective. The reality is that she just wanted to be free to run around in a fun open space and I was stopping her from doing this. She had no concept of safety and to her it was totally unfair. If you think about, it’s totally understandable that she protested! In that moment, I sat on the floor (in the middle of the shopping aisle like you do), held her and told her that I understood why she was cross, but that it was my job as her mummy to keep her safe. I cuddled her as she screamed and just told her that I was there and when she was ready, she could choose what she wanted to do. After a few seconds, she calmed down, wiped her tears, put her hands in the air for me to put on her backpack and we went on our way. Despite supporting her through her meltdown this didn’t mean that my boundaries or expectations were compromised. Had I have met her with anger, it’s likely the meltdown would have gone on a lot longer and she certainly wouldn’t have made the decision herself to put on her bag.


3) Give them time and choice

This brings me to my next point which is to give children time and choices. Nobody likes to feel controlled and children are no different. Quite often we have a schedule and we move from activity to activity based on our own timetable. However, children can struggle with these transitions and ‘rebel’. How many times have we told children it’s lunchtime and they’ve gone into meltdown because they want to keep playing? It can be frustrating, but in reality, how would we feel if we were engrossed in something on our computer and someone just came and switched it off with no warning telling us it was lunchtime? We’d be furious! However, if someone said that lunch was going to be ready in 5 minutes, we’d finish off what we were doing and shut down the computer ourselves. The same applies with children. Quite often they are busy with something important to them and have it whipped away with no warning. I’ve found that by giving my children a 5 – 10 minute warning, it gives them autonomy and makes the process a lot smoother. My children actually negotiate with me and I believe this is good because it teaches them the art of compromise. I’ll say it’s bedtime in 5 minutes and my little boy will say ‘no Mama, 4 minutes’. It makes me giggle because he has no concept of time, but I agree, set a timer on my phone and leave it with him. Nine times out of ten, when the alarm goes off, he brings it to me and I tuck him in bed. If I set a time for my children for something to happen, I quite often also ask them if they are okay with this too. If they say it isn’t (which is often the case), I ask them what they think is fair and we compromise. This gives them ownership of their own actions and teaches them to take responsibility of themselves. On the odd occasion that they do go into meltdown after the set time, I remind them that they agreed this time and said that it was fair, which is often enough to calm them down.

At the end of the day tantrums are unavoidable and are a natural part of a child’s development. Children are just little people that have all of the big emotions that we as adults feel – anger, sadness, fear, frustration – yet they have no ability to process them in a rational way. It can be frustrating, however, if we can try to look at the world through their eyes and approach these meltdowns with calmness and kindness, our children will feel safe and learn the art of
self-regulation a lot sooner.


About the author

Stacey Kelly is a former teacher, a parent to 2 beautiful babies and the founder of Early Years Story Box, which is a subscription website providing children’s storybooks and early years resources. She is passionate about building children’s imagination, creativity and self-belief and about creating awareness of the impact that the Early Years have on a child’s future. Stacey loves her role as a writer, illustrator and public speaker and believes in the power of personal development. She is also on a mission to empower children to live a life full of happiness and fulfilment, which is why she launched the #ThankYouOaky Gratitude Movement.

Sign up to Stacey’s premium membership and use the code PARENTA20 to get 20% off or contact Stacey for an online demo.




Storytelling in music: using royalty and magic part 2

Storytelling in music: using royalty and magic part 2

We follow up our royalty and magic storytelling in music series this month by introducing the first few characters in the Magical Musical Kingdom, and their related rhythms (the King featured in the last article!) As adults, characters in stories represent concepts, but as children, these are ‘people’ with personalities to whom they can relate, like they do with cartoons and other fictional characters. I used to be asked about who else the characters played with, and what the characters did over the weekends! Yet musically, as soon as children heard the character rhythms, they often remembered them for their ‘personality’ and the movement that they represented, and could then accurately play their rhythm. All songs are available on

1. As a quick reminder, our background planning to the Magical Musical Kingdom included

Time: 10 parts, 10 characters, 10 musical skills

Rhythms: movement-based (gross motor), progressively halving or
doubling note lengths

Melodies: pentatonic-based (5 notes), progressively using more notes

Ages: non-walkers, toddlers and walkers (broadly, birth to 7)


2. Character: Queen Quaver

Music note: quavers/eighth

Jogging twice as quickly as the walk: jogging, jogging, jogging, jogging


Physical warm-up: Shoes off, calmly (no talking) listen to instrumental music while jogging around the room, any direction, either holding baby, or holding hands with our new walker or pre-schooler.

Vocal warm-up: Warm up our voices: Do you have your whispering voice? Yes, I have my whispering voice. Do you have your speaking voice? Yes, I have my speaking voice. Do you have your queen voice? Yes, I have my queen voice! Do you have your singing voice (singing like an ambulance tune)? Yes, I have my singing voice (ambulance tune). Ready to sing!

Song 1: Queen of Hearts (game) Circle dance together, holding a scarf between you in each hand. Alternate walking around left and right with walking forward and backward.

Song 2: Queens are Royal (instruments) Playing shaking instruments like egg shakers, jog whilst singing the song.

Story part 2: King Crotchet was married to Queen Quaver. Queen Quaver moved quickly and quietly, and she was always two steps ahead of the King. Queen Quaver was very beautiful, the most beautiful lady in the land, and people travelled from all over the world to see her. Wherever she went, the mountains peaked higher, the grass shone greener, the flowers grew brighter and even the rivers shone until they glistened, although she hardly made a sound. Queen Quaver loved to play tennis and would always bounce and hit the ball as quickly as she could.

Craft:Make and/or decorate jewellery, like rings and necklaces (out of paper or pipe cleaners and beads). Walk around the room with it, singing the song!

Activity:Play a modified version of tennis with big balls or balloons.


3. Character: Knight Quaver-Crotchet

Music note: quaver-crotchet/eighth note-quarter note

Combining jogging and walking step: jogging-walk, jogging-walk,
jogging-walk, jogging-walk


Physical warm-up: Shoes off, calmly (no talking) listen to instrumental music while doing a jogging-walk, jogging-walk around the room, any direction, either holding baby, or holding hands with our new walker or pre-schooler.

Vocal warm-up:Warm up our voices: Do you have your whispering voice? Yes, I have my whispering voice. Do you have your speaking voice? Yes, I have my speaking voice. Do you have your knight voice? Yes, I have my knight voice! Do you have your singing voice (singing like an ambulance tune)? Yes, I have my singing voice (ambulance tune). Ready to sing!

Song 1: Grand Old Duke (game) March around together to a jogging walk whilst singing the song. (Protect your kingdom by moving carefully around people.)

Song 2: Knight and Horse (instruments) Playing tapping instruments like sticks
or drums, using the jogging-walk, jogging-walk beat.

Story part 3: King Crotchet and Queen Quaver lived with a brave and handsome Knight Quaver-Crotchet. He was the most brave person in all the land and would do anything to protect his King Crotchet and Queen Quaver. When bad people took things from the King, Knight Quaver-Crotchet would travel to the other side of the world and never give up until they were caught. He wasn’t scared of anything or anyone because he was fit and well trained. When he was training, Knight Quaver-Crotchet loved to fence, a sport with swords that relied on cunning and expertise.

Craft: Make and decorate a paper sword. Walk around the room with it, singing the song!

Activity: Choose a toy to pretend to be a horse and pretend to ride it, having a horse race!


4. Character: Lady Minim

Music note: minim/half note

Slow walk taking twice as long as the casual walk: slow walk, slow walk, slow walk, slow walk


Physical warm-up: Shoes off, calmly (no talking) listen to instrumental music while doing a slow walk, slow walk around the room, any direction, either holding baby, or holding hands with our new walker or pre-schooler.

Vocal warm-up: Warm up our voices: Do you have your whispering voice? Yes, I have my whispering voice. Do you have your speaking voice? Yes, I have my speaking voice. Do you have your lady voice? Yes, I have my lady voice! Do you have your singing voice (singing like an ambulance tune)? Yes, I have my singing voice (ambulance tune). Ready to sing!

Song 1: Down Came My Friend (game) Stand opposite each other, or line up toys opposite each other, so that you can walk down the middle doing a funny dance, while you sing this song.

Song 2: Pink Hat (instruments) Play a chiming instrument like a triangle or gently tap a glass of water, listening to the long sound that it makes, slow-walk, slow-walk around the room.

Story part 4: Knight Quaver-Crotchet was married to Lady Minim, a very special Lady who was very good at caring for sick animals. Lady Minim moved slowly and calmly so that they were never startled or afraid and some people said she could even speak the secret language of animals. When she wasn’t caring for animals, Lady Minim loved to play bowls, gently rolling one ball to hit the bullseye.

Craft:Make and decorate a paper hat or animal. Walk around the room with it, singing the song!

Activity: Play a modified version of bowls by taking turns to roll a ball towards a target.


The next article includes the development of the next sessions, showing how different rhythms can be introduced at these early stages by musicians and non-musicians alike.


About the author

Frances Turnbull

Musician, researcher and author, Frances Turnbull, is a self-taught guitarist who has played contemporary and community music from the age of 12. She delivers music sessions to the early years and KS1. Trained in the music education techniques of Kodály (specialist singing), Dalcroze (specialist movement) and Orff (specialist percussion instruments), she has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology (Open University) and a Master’s degree in Education (University of Cambridge). She runs a local community choir, the Bolton Warblers, and delivers the Sound Sense initiative aiming for “A choir in every care home” within local care and residential homes, supporting health and wellbeing through her community interest company.

She has represented the early years music community at the House of Commons, advocating for recognition for early years music educators, and her table of progressive music skills for under 7s features in her curriculum books.

Frances is the author of “Learning with Music: Games and Activities for the Early Years“ “Learning with Music: Games and Activities for the Early Years“, published by Routledge, August 2017.

Local demand opens furloughed Best nursery in Torquay

Local demand opens furloughed Best nursery in Torquay

Press Release from:Tops Day Nurseries

Tops Day Nurseries Babbacombe made the difficult decision to close its doors last month due to government advice and lack of numbers. Just a few weeks later, the nursery have welcomed back a number of children due to demand in the local area.

Tracey Dobson, Nursery Manager said “I am delighted to be back at work providing essential care for parents.

We stayed in contact with families as much as possible, but nothing compares to seeing the children’s smiling faces each morning. There are still a number of children who are unable to come back into the nursery until the government confirm that we can take them, and we miss them dearly.

I am so proud of my team and in fact all early years staff across the UK who are still going in to work each day wiping noses, giving cuddles, changing nappies and putting the children and families before themselves with no additional PPE. The Early Years sector is undervalued, but not by us, well done to you all.”

Earlier this year, Tops Babbacombe was voted the best nursery in Torquay by Three Best Rated cares for children aged between 3 months – school age and offers an after school and holiday club for children up to 8 years.  Tops also offer emergency placements between the hours of 6am-8pm, subject to demand and availability.


Three Best Rated award –

Tops Day Nurseries website –

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