Helping Your Child Cope with Bereavement

Jennifer Buttner


November 12, 2013

coping with bereavement

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Has your child suffered from the death of a parent? Are they struggling with bereavement? To lose someone you love is tragic, both for the surviving partner and the children. Sheila O’Malley from Practical Parenting shares her tips for helping your child cope with bereavement.

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Be Gentle

A death has occurred and you have a choice. You can face the grief and begin a journey where you integrate the death into your lives or you can avoid the pain and bury it deep within.

As parents we try to protect our children from painful things, yet it may be better to face the grief and be on the journey together. Be gentle with yourself and your child as you do this.

Grieving a Parent

For a young person, the loss of a parent is difficult, but often we lose the other parent emotionally as well.

Therefore, it is critical your son or daughter feels your love during this period, and the best way to do this is by getting support for yourself as well.

Support is Important

There are many specialist support services available for you and your child, contact your GP for details. Obviously, family and friends are important at this time also.

Your Child May Show a Variety of Responses:

A young person can manifest a variety of the following responses during the grieving period (at least a year, if not two).

1. Physical Symptoms

If a young person senses it is not okay to talk about the death, where do they go with their feelings and who do they turn to? If there is no one there for them, they will embody their fears and this will manifest through increased illness or sickness. These symptoms may also be your child’s way of seeking attention.

2. Emotional Responses

Emotionally, a child may present with sadness, fears, anxiety, guilt and denial. These are all part of the grieving process and need gentleness, understanding and reassurance. Unconditional love is the best response to these feelings.

3. Anger

Bereaved young people often feel angry – understand and accept this anger for what it is. It may be towards the parent who has died when they needed them. It may be intensified if they perceive the parent as having a choice in their death (suicide).

Sometimes, it is directed inwards, where they blame themselves for the death. Explore your child’s feelings and reassure her that she is not responsible for the death.

4. Communication

The thought patterns can be low self image, confusion, inability to concentrate and disbelief. Communication and love is crucial here, reassuring the young person that this is normal and you are there for them when they need to talk.

5. Behaviour Changes

There can be a variety of responses ranging from: Sleeplessness, loss of appetite, poor grades, crying, nightmares, fighting and clingy. Bereaved children need patience from you and to feel nurtured and listened to.

“A young person is old enough to grieve, if they are old enough to love.”

A young person does not have the experience or comprehension to integrate loss into their world. Tell them they will feel many emotions and that all are normal. This is why sharing how you feel encourages your child’s expression of their feelings.

You are the person steering them through their grief; yet you are dealing with your own grief at the same time. Accept the help and support that you need and is available at this time.

Tips for Dealing with Grief:

  • Honesty and open communication is crucial.
  • Do not cover up. Answer questions truthfully in words they can understand.
  • Answer only what is being asked.
  • Encourage the expression of feelings, it will minimise the potential for miscommunication.
  • If your young person does not want to talk, tell her that is okay, but that you are there when they need to talk.
  • Attending the funeral provides closure; there is a finality that is helpful
  • Try to follow normal routines as much as possible as it restores a sense of order and security. Avoid making changes that will stress and disrupt further.
  • Finally, responding with love over the grieving period is vital, so they know you are there for them and accepting support for you in order to do that.

Sheila O’Malley is one of Ireland’s leading Parenting experts who established Practical Parenting to offer support and training to Parents. She facilitates many corporate programs and delivers talks around personal and family wellbeing.

Have you any tips for other parents on helping your child deal with bereavement?  Share them in the comments below.

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