Improving communication with parents or carers who have lost a child

The loss of a child engenders complex emotions that are difficult to articulate, and bereaved parents or carers often struggle to communicate how they feel to those who are there to support them.

The True Colours TrustCultural taboos around death and its associated negative emotions mean that those who support parents or carers may find it difficult to find the most appropriate ways of communicating. Communicating effectively with a parent whose child has died, requires extraordinary levels of sensitivity. A strong understanding of the emotional impact of the experience helps healthcare practitioners to provide compassionate care. It is not just healthcare professionals who are faced with this challenge; other professionals, such as registrars and funeral directors also need to be aware of the potential effects of their communication. Funeral directors have a particularly important role to play in helping parents to mark loss in a positive way, thus creating memories that they can draw on to help them through the bereavement process.

This project, which is funded by the True Colours Trust is designed to help healthcare practitioners, registrars and funeral directors to support parents or carers who have lost a child. In it, we are interviewing parents or carers who have lost a child about their experiences. We are focusing both on the experience of the loss itself, the kind of communication they had with professionals, including healthcare professionals, registrars and funeral directors.

In our analysis of the transcripts of these interviews we are looking at what our participants say about the loss in general, the choices they made, and their communications with healthcare practitioners, registrars and funeral directors in order to identify examples of good and poor practice. We are also examining the language used to gain deeper insights into the experience of child loss. We are developing training materials for healthcare practitioners, registrars and funeral directors based on our findings.

Research Questions

  1. How is the loss of a child experienced?
  2. What do parents/carers recollect of their communication with healthcare professionals, Registrars and funeral directors?
  3. What aspects of this communication do parents perceive to be effective and ineffective?

Project Team

  • Professor Jeannette Littlemore (Professor of Applied Linguistics, Department of English Language and Linguistics, University of Birmingham)
  • Dr Sarah Turner (Lecturer in Stylistics, School of Humanities, Coventry University)
  • Professor Julie Taylor (Professor of Child Protection, School of Nursing, University of Birmingham and Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust)
  • Professor Annie Topping (Professor in Nursing, School of Nursing, University of Birmingham and University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust)
  • Eloise Parr, Research Assistant. Email: E.Parr@bham.ac.uk

Publications from the Project

  • Turner, S., Littlemore, J., Parr, E., Taylor, J. and Topping, A. (2020). Maintaining identity is important, SAIF Insight, Journal of the Society of Independent Funeral Directors,  
  • Littlemore, J., Turner, S., Parr, E., Taylor, J. and Topping, A. (2021). ‘He was very kind and you know, very understanding and sympathetic and said the right things. It’s a sort of gift isn’t it?’ Communicating Effectively When Helping Parents to Organise a Funeral for Their Child, Funeral Director Monthly (National Association of Funeral Directors).
  • Parr, E., Turner, S., Littlemore, J., Taylor, J. and Topping, A. (2020). Communicating effectively with parents whose child has died, Resurgam - The Journal of the Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities – Volume 63 No.4. 

For more information about the project, please contact Professor Jeannette Littlemore j.m.littlemore@bham.ac.uk