Like many parents, you may want to protect your child from the pain of dealing with death. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, the death of a parent can cause shock and confusion, making it difficult for children to cope. Help your children make it through this difficult time by preparing for their possible reactions and questions. With time and plenty of love, children can survive the heart-wrenching experience of losing a parent.
Explain death in terms your child can understand. Very young children have difficulty understanding the permanence of death and may expect the deceased parent to return. Explain that the parent’s body stopped working and that the parent can’t come back. Reassure your child that his parent did not want to leave him. Reassure him that his actions did not cause the parent to leave.
Ask the child how he feels and what he thinks about the death of his parent. Although this can be a difficult topic for both of you, talking about his feelings can help him process his grief. Discuss his parent’s life and experiences you both remember. Do not allow the death of his parent to become a taboo subject that he feels uncomfortable discussing.
Save special mementos for your child to cherish. Pictures of his parent, as well as treasured belongings can help your child focus on the positive ways his parent influenced his life. Comment on positive traits and talents he shares with his absent parent.
Expect a range of emotions, including periods of sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety and disbelief. Although the process of grief involves strong emotions, destructive behaviors require quick attention. Watch for symptoms of worsening depression, explosive anger and strong denial.
Explain how this death will affect your child’s life. Depending on his age, your child may wonder where he will live, how he will survive and who will take care of him. He may fear losing his other parent in the same manner. Reassure him that there will always be people in his life who will love and care for him, keeping him safe and secure.
Make an appointment with a professional bereavement therapist. Discuss your own feelings of loss, as well as ways to help your child cope. The therapist may want to help your child work through his grief with regular counseling sessions. Encourage your child to share his thoughts and feelings with the counselor.
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