The impact of grief and loss on children and young people

Ciara grew up on the border in Ireland in the 1980s where community relational conflict and trans-generational trauma was rife. Here, Ciara explains how a creative approach help children and young people express their feelings, and shares some key takeaways from her Live Classroom session.


Ciara grew up on the border in Ireland in the 1980s where community relational conflict and trans-generational trauma was rife. Now, she’s a trainer with and specialises in working with children, young people, parents, families and caregivers impacted by adverse childhood experiences and has delivered Creative Life Story Work training on understanding the impact of grief and loss on children and young people.

Here, Ciara explains how a creative approach help children and young people express their feelings, and shares some key takeaways from her Live Classroom session.

How does your own background inform your practice today?

I grew up on the border town between the North and South of Ireland in the 1980s.

I was born into a large extended family who were all emergency service workers in a community where relational conflict and trans-generational trauma including grief and loss were rife. I was directly impacted by ‘The Troubles’. I have undertaken my own transformative healing journey through therapeutic exploration, academic learning and discovery, signposts that have helped me navigate along the path of healing from the impact of personal and family trauma. My personal journey repairing, rebuilding, and sustaining a healthy, contented relationship with myself and my past experiences has inspired me to help others to find contentment in their own relationships. As a qualified and registered Arts Psychotherapist (Dramatherapist) and social worker with over twelve years’ experience, my practice is steeped in therapeutic and trauma-informed practice.

How can using a creative approach help when working with children and young people impacted by grief and loss?

It’s important to support children and young people to express their feelings, not suppress.

A creative approach can support children and young people, to connect with their feelings and express themselves without having to talk directly about how they feel. Talking directly about how you feel can be too overwhelming. When we use a creative approach, we can create some distance which may feel less overwhelming. A creative approach can allow the child or young person to access and express how they feel, which may be too difficult to access and express, through words alone.

The creative process can be a therapeutic and healing experience. It can serve as a way of processing, making sense, framing and re-framing experiences. When a child or young person’s creative process is witnessed by another, it can be a cathartic and healing experience. The creative medium can offer a safe container creating aesthetic distance, to a complex and multi layered life experience.

Can you share any examples where you’ve seen the positive impact that creativity can have?

I have observed the positive impact of working in the creative medium. It can support connection, expression, insight, healing, and growth.

Amy * age 16 utilised the creative medium of images, coloured materials, puppets, drawing, and sounds to create a sculpture. This sculpture represented how she was feeling in relation to her mum not being emotionally available to her (loss). This process allowed Amy to move through the ebbs and flows of her feelings. The creative medium allowed Amy to witness her story from a safe distance. It also allowed Amy to be witnessed by her therapist, allowing Amy to feel safe enough to express her deep sadness.

Tyler* age seven and his brother and sister lost their father to illness. I supported all the siblings to visit their father’s favourite place, close to the river. I took some arts and craft materials along. They sat by the river talking about him and reminiscing, they drew him a picture and wrote him a note, placing it in the river they watched it float away as they huddled together to comfort each other. Later they sat in quiet reflection, and we all shared some hot food together. This creative ritual appeared to offer a sense of comfort to the family.

Can you share some key takeaways from your Live Classroom on grief and loss?

Self-care is not selfish. Self-care is personal, and it begins with you. You most likely be able to build a child/young person’s self-regulation if you take care of your own. Remember your calm seas will calm their storms.

Safe and trusting relationships. Traumatic life experiences such as loss affect brain-body stress systems in ways that can make children and young people feel unsafe. Helping children and young people feel safe, physically, emotional, and socially provides the foundation for their mental, social, and emotional wellness. We can only help children and young people feel safe when we feel safe and grounded and regulated in ourselves.

TRUST is believing that the person who is trusted will do what is expected. TRUST is the first stage of psychosocial development in the first two years of a child’s life. It is these early childhood experiences that can impact on how we show up for ourselves and in our relationships. TRUST is important in any relationship because it allows you the opportunity to relax, be yourself and depend on another person.

Ways we can build TRUST in our relationships:

  • Create new positive experiences together
  • Find fun ways to connect
  • Say what you mean and mean what you say
  • Keep and follow through on commitments you make
  • Be consistent.

Holding space. When you hold space for someone, you create a space we’re they feel safe to share their most vulnerable self/selves and feelings. Think of a time when you were feeling wobbly or vulnerable. Did you need someone to advise or to just take the time and be present for you? Sometimes the best thing we can do for someone is to simply be with them and listen. When we create a safe space like this for ourselves and our relationships, we will feel loved, seen, heard, understood, and cared for.

Top tips for “holding space”.

1. Practice active listening

2. Don’t jump to problem solving or advice-giving mode

3. Try and keep your own experiences and issues separate from the conversation

4. Try and stay open to whatever emotions come up

5. Re-fill your cup, get into nature for example or practice some self-soothing or self-care for yourself.

Holding space is so important when it comes to deepening and nurturing our relationships. It’s just as much about being present for another as it is about listening to them even if what they might say makes us uncomfortable at first.

The importance of Mindful practice

When working with children and young people who have experienced grief and loss, it’s important to be mindful of tender moments, they will need support, understanding, curiosity, empathy, and acceptance. These moments might include:

  • Transitions
  • Endings/new beginnings
  • Birth dates
  • Celebrations
  • Loss of belongings
  • Time/contact with siblings and birth family
  • Food
  • People and places

Where can people find more information and resources about grief and loss?

All connected – a place for belonging a YouTube channel which has a range of child and young person friendly videos on the topics of, grief, loss, trauma, the brain rejection, connection, and healing. Find out more here: All Connected: A Place for Belonging – YouTube

“Creating Rituals” Rituals offer a powerful way to work through and heal from loss and grief, they can support a person with self-expression, they can offer and provide a safe and emotional comfort and serve as a vehicle to stay connected to the person they have lost. It can also offer a sense of belonging, and shared loss and sense of order and comfort. Find out more here: (Article) | Therapist Aid


Thank you Ciara for sharing your expertise with us.

You can see what other Live Classrooms are coming up here, and you can find out more about grief and loss, and the impact it can have on people, via the following list of resources which Ciara has compiled.


A list of useful resources to support your understanding and working with grief and loss and the impact it can have on the body, brain and relationship with the self and others.