Helping Children Deal with the Death of a Parent

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 A parent recently seekws advice on how to comfort her young niece and nephew after their father died in a freak accident. Here are some of the thoughts and suggestions from PSP Members.

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Be sure to read the PSP article, Explaining Death To Children, which covers more general advice about loss and recovery.


 - "Try to keep things as normal as possible, keep positive but not overly or fake."


- "They should be allowed to express exactly they are thinking/ feeling even if it is hard to hear or appears not to make sense. Having a clear understanding of what they believe will be very helpful- both are still young enough to have magical thinking & may have some very distorted beliefs about their fathers death (that they could have caused it by being bad, that death isn't permanent, that daddy is a ghost, etc). Children are naturally self-centered & they very often believe that their actions caused deaths. It's important to give them space to express their thoughts fully. Then adults can help provide accurate truthful age-appropriate info for them (they did not cause the death, daddy will be in our memories but we won't see him again).
Children often have trouble naming /describing feelings which can feel overwhelming. Helping them put words to what they feel can be helpful- naming physical sensations & linking them to emotions (feeling a knot in stomach or heart or crying = how your body you that you are feeling sad)."


- "Whether or not the kids should attend the funeral is always a big question (and is something Park Slope Parents talks about in more detail HERE). Giving them some say in the decision can be helpful (unless open casket which may be too stimulating). Also thinking about what their mom will need during the funeral- she may be too distraught to care for them or provide comfort.

As this awful acute period passes, it will be important to maintain positive memories of dad."


- "Watch them play, join in playtime. When a serious question comes up, you can say something like "everything will be okay," mommy and brother/sister will all be okay, you will feel better. Smiles, hugs, favorite characters help!"


- "At that age, it is important to let the kids know that they can ask you questions about what happened, and that you can answer them honestly (without being too grisly). Hospitals also employ family social workers, which may still be available to talk to the kids or provide community resources that are available to your sister's family. I would also recommend some counseling sessions with a grief counselor geared towards children, either short term for now to help them understand, or longer term if necessary. I think for your visit, just be available. Check with your sister about how much she wants to reveal, and be honest with the kids. They may want to talk about it or they may just want to be normal. Let them know its ok to just be normal, and have fun and play if they want to, and that it doesn't mean that they don't love their dad. Maybe take them out of the house and do something normal so that they have a sense of still being kids."


- "I would follow your sister's lead and support her so she can support them. It may be too early for a grief counselor but they can be good and often hospices etc have counsellors that can deal with various circumstances so can be a good place to start if having trouble."


- "Grief shows up in a lot of ways, and your being there to hold a space for them to freak out or just cry is the best thing you can do. It will be a long healing process for the whole family. You will know what to do if you just trust that it's more of a place of honoring grief than doing anything else. A lot of people freeze up and think they have to do something concrete. But I have learned from my own experiences that presence and love and acceptance is the thing that the little guys remember the best. And what is most important is the weeks and months after the funeral that matter the most. The concept of just moving on is the most misunderstood isn't like that at all. Grief has its own way.

Finally, this website talks about The Healing Process With Children."


- "One thing I thought was helpful was age appropriate kids books talking about people leaving, loss and even death itself. Read them to them. and dont worry about having too many. they will pick the ones they respond too. another thing I was counciled to do was to make a memory book about him. You could have each kid do their own, and include photo copied pictures and everything, if you dont have time to finish it, that might be a family project for your sister if she is up to it. It gives a lot of time for all involved to talk about how they are feeling and share it with someone, not keep it inside. I think that is really the most important element." (Click HERE to see Kids Books on Death as recommended by Park Slope Parents Members)