How to help children cope with the death of a parent

May 21, 2021

No matter what age you are when it happens, losing a parent can be devastating. For children, it can be particularly difficult to process and deal with the overwhelming feelings that come with this huge loss, which they may not have experienced before. It can be difficult to know what to say or do to best help a child process their emotions and get through this hard time. We have put together some advice to help you help them handle grief after the death of a parent.

Talk About It

Talking about death can be challenging, especially with a child. However, it is important to talk to children about it to ensure they understand.

When talking to children about death, it is important to not use euphemisms such as “they have gone to sleep” or “we have lost them” or “they are in a better place” as this can be confusing or cause concern for a child, as they can take things literally.

You should use simple and direct language, and not be afraid to use words such as “died” or “dead”. To explain to younger children, you could try using phrases such as “their heard has stopped beating” or “they are no longer alive”.

Encourage Questions

Encouraging children to ask questions about death will let them know it is okay to talk about death and to question what happened to their parent. Death should not be made to feel like a taboo subject in your home.

Making your child feel comfortable enough to ask questions will help them understand what has happened and to process their feelings. It will also give you an insight into how they are coping and what they are thinking and feeling.

Ask Them Questions

As well as encouraging them to ask questions, you should also ask children questions to help gauge their understanding of what has happened, and their thoughts and feelings.

Ask open-ended questions and listen to their answers or be understanding if they say they do not feel like talking about it at that moment.

Invite Them to the Funeral

You should ask children of an appropriate age whether they want to attend the funeral of a parent. If they want to go, let them, but if not then you should not force them to go.

Allowing a child to go to a funeral may help to give them closure, especially if it is a parent they have lost. However, make sure you let them know what to expect beforehand. Explain what they might see or hear at a funeral to help prepare them.

Stick to Their Routine

Try to keep your child’s routine as consistent as possible. Having structure can provide security for children, especially during worrisome times. Keeping to the same rules and routines can help to make a child feel secure.

Do Not Hide Your Emotions

You should not feel the need to disguise your own feelings or to be strong for the sake of your children. Expressing yourself and showing your emotions will show children that it is okay to be upset and to cry.

Keep Their Memory Alive

Commemorating a loved one can aid the healing process. There are many ways that you can help to keep your child’s memory of their parent alive.

You could involve your child in the funeral or memorial service by allowing them to write a letter or drawing a picture to put in the coffin or casket, or to read a poem, or to help with picking photos to display at the service.

Later down the line, you may want to plant a tree in the parent’s honour, celebrating their birthday, or simply ensuring there are photos of them around the house, and regularly talking about them.

Seek Professional Help

You should expect to see some changes in your child’s mood or behaviour following the death of a parent, and this is completely normal. However, if there are extreme or persistent changes, you may need to seek professional help. Marie Curie has curated a list of books for and about grieving children which can help a child to understand death and realise they are not alone. Child Bereavement UK supports children and young people who are facing bereavement. For confidential support, information, and guidance, speak to a Child Bereavement UK professional by calling their helpline on 0800 02 888 40.