Losing a parent is one of the most distressing things a child can experience. Whether you’re their other parent, or another relative, there are a few things you can do to help them through this incredibly difficult time.
Look After Yourself
If you’re grieving too, it’s important to remember to care for yourself too. You can be a more effective help to a grieving child if you’re taking care of yourself.
Find a support for yourself, whether that means seeking counselling or speaking to a trusted friend or relative. Take the time you need to recover too.
If practical concerns are worrying you if you’ve been widowed, don’t feel guilty. It’s natural to worry about supporting a child on one income if you’re used to two. Life insurance policies, survivor benefits and other help is available. If your spouse has been killed in an accident, approach an attorney that handles wrongful death, who can advise you on whether you may be entitled to some compensation to help you.
Give Them What They Need
It’s important to offer a child the support that they need. They may be experiencing a lot of confusing emotions and will need your help to process what has happened.
Where possible, give them a sense of routine and normality. Try to maintain some normal activities at home and at school. Keep some home routine going, even if it’s just keeping meal and bedtimes at the same time they always were. Speak to your child’s school about what has happened, so they can offer some extra support for your child when they return to school.
Offer them lots of extra love and support, with plenty of cuddles to reassure them. Grief can be a lonely experience for everyone, and your child needs to feel cared for in a time where they might feel very lost. Ask for help from other family or friends and ask them to help you look after yourself and your child in the weeks following the loss.
Give them a chance to talk, and feel connected. A loss in the family can leave everyone feeling adrift and fractures. While it’s natural for you to withdraw during this hard time, this can mean your child feels disconnected from you as well. Help them to feel connected to you and the parent they have lost.
Don’t be secretive. Talk to them, in age appropriate terms, about the death and let them ask you any questions they may have. Try to address any fears and worries they may have. Listen to their concerns carefully, and try to reassure them that they are not at fault in any way. Acknowledge their feelings, even if they differ from yours, and let them know that whether they feel sad, angry or confused that this is okay.
Your child may find ways of coping that you don’t understand. Whether they become more clingy or retreat, or want to spend time with their friends, respect their grieving process. Help them develop a support network of people they can turn to for help. That can include you, their own friends, teachers or other family members.
Help them to feel connected to the parent they have lost. They may worry about talking about them if they can see you’re sad, so encourage them to talk to you about their parent. Together, share your memories of the person you both love and have lost. Look at photographs together and talk about the times they make you remember. Take the time to remember them together, and mark any anniversaries. You could help them to create a memory box with pictures and other special items that they associate with the parent they have lost.
Be Prepared For Difficult Questions
A death of someone as essential to their life as a parent can make a child really question whether the world is still safe. It’s likely that they will need more reassurance than usual to help them feel safe again.
Some children may worry about becoming sick themselves. You could take them to see their family Doctor for some reassurance. Give your doctor a warning before you come in so they’re prepared for difficult questions themselves.
They may need some reassurance about what will happen to them. Take the time to discuss who will look after them and where they will live so they understand what is happening. If things will change, try and involve them in the discussions and decisions so they get some sense of control over their own future.