The most difficult life changing event for any child is the loss of a parent. During this time of loss, it is difficult to know exactly what your child is feeling because so many emotions are taking their toll on the entire family. Unfortunately, I have had an up close and personal view of this situation. I had to help my own children cope with the loss of their father. At the time, my children were 10 and 9.
Trying to explain death is never easy, but is one that is especially hard to explain to children. Children have a very literal view of the world. My children saw death as being something that happened to ”old” people and their dad was young. Although at 10 and 9, they knew that someone could die or pass away, and they understood what a funeral was, they didn’t seem to understand the finality of it, and had a hard time coming to terms with that. This is very common amongst children under 13. However, a teenager may view this experience on a whole different level. Teenagers understand that eventually everyone dies. In dealing with their pain, they may have bouts of anger, depression and constant worry. In some cases, teenagers develop fears about their own individual mortality and the mortality of their surviving parent and siblings, even becoming extremely anxious about it. My son went through this experience far into his teenage years. All of these issues are very natural for a child/teenager who is dealing with the death of a parent.
I wanted to share some of the ways I helped my children to cope with their fathers death with you readers. I know it is a touchy subject, but one that I feel is extremely important. Here are a few helpful items that I used and a few that I researched as well, all of which are very helpful:
1. Be honest with your children about their feelings. If they are in their room screaming and crying — let them. If they are angry for a while — understand them and allow them to express it. The worst thing that can happen to them has become a reality. They have to be able to express themselves in order to move on. Remind them that they will not be judged for their emotions.
2. Get them good grief counseling. This is one of the most important things you can do for your child. I learned so much from my childrens’ grief counselor about the way their minds were handling this pain and what I could expect that they would be going through in the near future. It helped me to be a more prepared parent and allowed me to help them more than I could have on my own.
3. Keep them grounded. Try to keep their lives moving as they were before. Get them back on their same schedules with activities as soon as you can. Obviously, a very important part of their life has changed, but keeping some of their normal activities the same will help them carry on and will give them back a little normalcy that they are used to. Do not isolate them.
4. Patience. Very important. Have plenty of it. Remember, a child’s parent is their safety net. When mom or dad is taken away from them suddenly, they can feel like their life is crashing around them. Be honest with them and reinforce to them that you love them and that the family will get through this together. Reinforce to them that it will take time, but you have all of the time in the world for them.
5. Memories. When the time is right, allow them to have special mementos (i.e., for a teen maybe their parents drivers license), a watch, pictures, or a special piece of jewelry. This is a way to allow your children to keep their parent close. Allow them to do volunteer work in honor of their parent.
6. Share your spiritual beliefs. Sharing your families spiritual beliefs and explaining the meanings to them will help ease their pain.
Mourning the loss of a parent is a life-long process, one that does not come easy. As some have already experienced and as others can only imagine, the pain never goes away completely. By being understanding, giving them space and time to heal and having patience with them, they will learn to come through it, I promise.
If you are a parent who’s lost a spouse or your child is dealing with the loss of a parent and would like more private help on this issue, please feel free to email me at email@example.com. I would be more than willing to share my experience and offer my help.
Peace & Blessings,