Losing a parent can feel overwhelming and incomprehensible. No matter how old you are, feelings of shock, despair, confusion, rage can be particularly hard to process. However, when it comes to helping a child overcome the loss of a parent, there’s some ways you can go about it that might make things easier for everyone.
First, there’s a few things you should keep in mind when children cope with death:
- After a death, many children want to share their story
- Telling their story is a healing experience
- One of the best ways adults can help young grievers is to listen to their stories
- Children also need continuity (normal activities), care (plenty of hugs and cuddles) and connection (to still feel connected to the parent who has died, and to you)
Here are a few steps you should take to help a child overcome the loss of a parent:
Talk about death:
Death is a challenging subject to discuss with anyone, let alone a child. But sugarcoating it or avoiding the topic as a way to protect your kid can do more harm than good, experts say. Read our recent blog post of how to explain death to a child.
Not only should you explain death to a child, you should also allow them to talk about death. Many children find talking as a way of coping. They want to tell others what just happened and in return, it helps them to heal rather than keep it all bottled up inside. So, listen. Allow them to freely speak about what’s happened.
Allow kids to attend the funeral — if they want to:
You should never force your child to go to the viewing, funeral or burial of a parent. That said, if they want to go, let them. Giving your child the option to have that closure, if they want it, can be valuable in their healing. But make sure you prepare them beforehand for what they might see or hear if they decide to attend, like an open-casket viewing, for example.
Ask them open-ended questions about how they’re doing and really listen to their answers.
For example, “How was it going back to school after the funeral?”; or, “How did it feel when your friend made that comment about you ‘not having a mom anymore?’” And if your child says they don’t feel like talking about Mom or Dad at the moment, try to be understanding of that.
It’s OK for your kid to see you sad sometimes:
Don’t feel pressured to disguise your feelings and “be strong” for your children all the time. You’re also going through an intensely stressful and emotional period so it’s only natural that you’d be upset. And it can be helpful in the healing process to grieve openly together.
Try to keep your kid’s routine as consistent as possible:
Structure gives children security during a scary time.That also means keeping household rules and discipline the same. The predictability of consequences will help the child feel secure. And before your child goes back to school, be sure to let their teacher, counselor and the administrators know what happened. They can check in with the student, offer support and make note of any concerning changes in their behavior.
Camp Koala and other grief support groups:
Know of a child recently dealing with a loss? Camp Koala is a local organization in Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania that provides grieving children with the tools and resources to help them manage their grief in a healthy way, and to offer companionship in a supportive environment.
They offer camps for children as well as offering grief support in conjunction with local funeral homes. Their goal is to help children get back to being a kid again, which is ultimately the most important thing you can do to help a child overcome the loss of a parent.
Other grief support group options are out there virtually or in-person that you may find helpful for adults and children dealing with grief. To learn more, please visit: https://www.rouppfuneralhome.com/grief-support