How to help children handle grief after the death of a parent

The loss of a parent is a terrible experience for any child. It can bring up a range of overwhelming emotions to the child such as confusion, deep sadness, shock, anger, anxiety and many more difficult emotions. Dealing with the loss of an important figure like a parent makes these intense feelings difficult to process.

If you are a close relative, a caregiver or a guardian to children who have just lost their parents, you need to learn ways to help them deal with grief the best way possible. If you ever find yourself in such a situation, the information shared here can help you assist a child who is dealing with grief after losing a parent.

How to talk about death with a child

Discussing the death of a loved one is overwhelming to anyone and it’s even worse when talking about the loss of a parent to a child. However, avoiding or sugarcoating the whole scenario is even worse. Thinking that you are protecting the children by not sharing vital information about their dead parents can actually do more harm than good. They need to know what is going on and to be given time to mourn their parents. To handle the situation in the right way, consider these ideas.

Use appropriate language

You need to be extra cautious when handling children who have just lost their parents. Be very considerate of the words you are going to use because they will remember some of those words even in their adult life. Besides, due to the mixed reactions they are dealing with at the moment, they can easily get offended by your words. Be sure to use age-appropriate words as well. How a three-year-old will understand death is different from a 10 years old. Although words like ‘mummy died’ may look harsh to a child, it’s better to go direct to the point and say things the way they are. The child will continue to understand the words as they get older.

Be honest

Being honest about the nature of death to a child is very important. Be as open as you can but make sure you take into account the child’s age. Keep your explanations appropriate to the child’s age and developmental stage. Too much details to a younger mind can be overwhelming and confusing. Try as much as you can to keep the information simple, truthful but at the same time brief.

If you choose to hide the truth about the nature of death may be because you think it may be too tough to the child, the child may not trust you later especially after learning more about the death of the parent.

Younger children may not know the permanency of death and it’s therefore important to remind them that people do not come back to life after death. It’s not a wonder to discuss daddy’s death only for the kid to insist he is not having dinner until daddy comes. While this can be frustrating, you need to exercise patience. It may take a while before they understand that they will never see daddy again.

Encourage questions

Even though you may want to close the discussion about the loss of the children’s parents in the shortest time possible, please it’s important to allow the ask questions. They deserve to know what transpired to the point of losing the parent. Let the children know it’s absolutely okay to ask questions regarding the death of their parents. Create an environment where it doesn’t look like a taboo to talk about the loss of their parent. In fact, the questions the children ask can give you insight on how they are faring and handling the whole issue. Please, don’t assume you know what the children are afraid of or how they feel. If you allow them to share their pain and thoughts you may be surprised.

Encourage the children to grief

Let the children know that it’s perfectly normal to cry and feel sad for losing their parents. Showing them it’s okay to grieve the loss of someone special to them like their parents will let them feel comfortable to tell you how exactly they feel about the whole issue. Also, take that opportunity to show the children love and reassurance.

Avail your services and attention to the children

After the loss of a parent, some children may want to share their story. Sharing their story is part of healing and therefore you need to be available to listen to it. The children will also need care, support and continuity of the normal activities they were used to before the loss. Even though things are now different and you may not care for them the exact way the parents were doing, at least do your best. Be affectionate to the children. It’s time for plenty of hugs and cuddles. Anything that strengthens your relationship with them is great and worth working hard for. If they are going to trust you or at least feel connected, you will be in a better position to help them in their grieving process.

When is it time for therapy?

Children experience difficulties after the death of a parent in different ways. At times, some may need professional help to recover. Here are signs you need to look out for to know if the children under your care need professional help. Although the signs are common after the death of a parent, they can become a problem if they continue for a longer time without any sign of improving.

  • Sleeping problems
  • Aggression
  • Difficulty talking
  • Social withdrawal
  • Physical body aches such as headaches and stomachaches
  • Inability to concentrate
  • General behaviour change

For older children, therapy may offer a chance for them to express their pains and difficulties in a safe environment. The therapist may suggest you don’t accompany the children to the sessions to allow them to talk about difficult things without the fear of offending you. Your children and toddlers are also affected by the death of a parent but their way of managing the feeling may not be necessarily obvious. This minute they could be crying the next they are laughing and playing. Play therapy can help a grieving toddler.

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