Helping Your Child to Deal with the Loss of a Parent
It is very difficult to help a child learn to deal with the loss of anything or anyone that they loved, but it is especially hard to help them learn to deal with the loss of a parent. While the surviving parent is struggling with their own grief, they must also deal with their child’s suffering as well. This is an extremely difficult time in their lives and something that will affect the entire family forever. There is hope and healing and your life will go on. The most important thing that needs to be stressed is that the parent needs to get help for themselves so that they are better able to assist their child in this loss.
First Things First: The Surviving Parent
Not to sound selfish, but the surviving parent must look to their own needs first during this time of loss in order to be there emotionally for their child. In this way the surviving parent will better be able to assist their child with their grief. There are numerous ways to deal with grief and emotional support through counseling and support groups that will help the surviving parent come to terms with their loss. Healing will be never ending and you will never forget this time in your lives, but it can get better. You will never “get over it”, but the pain will fade somewhat with time. It will be a continuous process through the rest of your life, but time does help. If you feel that you need help in dealing with your loss please seek counseling for yourself so that you not only can deal with your loss, but so you can help your child deal with their loss.
Your Child: Their Loss, Their Reactions
Your child has just lost one of the most important people in their young lives. If you, as a parent, are struggling through this being an adult who has the understanding of death imagine how your child must feel. Not only are they dealing with the physical aspects of the loss, the other parent not being there in body, but the emotional aspects as well. This will affect them for the rest of their lives, but if not dealt with at this time, they can suffer from repressed grief, which can resurface years later. This resurfacing of repressed grief will sometimes manifest itself in later years as anger. That is why it is so extremely important for you to help your child during this time. He needs the help and love of everyone around him to get through this time. He has lost some of his security. Your child needs continuous emotional support and the security of the remaining parent.
The grieving child may appear perfectly normal, playing about as usual. This is not uncommon. This is one way that they are coping with the loss of their parent. It does not mean that they do not care. It is simply their way of dealing with this. It is their form of protection for themselves. Some children may not do this at all. They may cry, which is a good thing. Some children may exhibit earlier signs of childhood such as bedwetting or thumbsucking. Some children may be clingy to the surviving parent as their emotional security has been diminished and they are afraid that you will go away too. There are children who will have an increase in outbursts, temper tantrums and their anger will come out. Children may even exhibit all of the above situations as they are trying to cope with their new loss and their new life situation. This is how they are attempting to cope with their grief and it is all very normal. The grieving child will need ongoing support to help him.
Ways to Help Your Grieving Child
Encourage your child to talk whenever possible, but do not pester him about it. He will talk when he is ready to talk. Be supportive and if possible enlist the help of
other family members at this time. Find support groups in your area especially geared for children dealing with loss, if possible. Your child will most likely benefit from some additional outside counseling, as well as the support that he receives from his surviving parent and other family members. Drawing also helps bring out a great deal in the grieving process. There is an excellent book entitled, “When Someone Very Special Dies: Children Can Learn to Cope with Grief” by Marge Heegaard. This workbook will guide your child in drawing out some of his feelings and this will hopefully bring about a discussion regarding his loss.
What to Expect Down the Road
The healing process depends on each individual person. It is different for everyone. Sometimes you or your child will forget for a few minutes or a few hours and then remember again. Time is a great healer though. If your family is a spiritual family incorporate that into the healing process as well. This will be very beneficial in dealing with your loss. Celebrate special days of the parent who has passed on if you like. Continue the same family rituals. This will also help. Although you will never forget, time has a way of fading out some of the aspects, as you must continue on with your daily lives and responsibilities. As time passes happy days will outweigh sad days and you will learn to come to a reasonably normal lifestyle after the adjustment period has been met. It is never easy to lose someone that you love, but your child will come to peace with it. You, as the surviving parent will need to be strong, as you will be your child’s rock and foundation and it is in you that your child will find the strength to smile and be happy once again.