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Little Girl Plays with Stuffed AnimalWhether you're young or old, no child is ever ready to lose a parent. Even if you're an adult, you'll still feel great pain and emptiness. However, losing a parent when you are still in elementary school or high school can be especially devastating. Helping a child mourn a parent is heartbreaking, but it important for proper emotional healing when a child experiences the loss of a parent.

Explain What Happened

Sometimes a parent dies after a long illness. In this case, the children are usually made aware of what is happening and have been warned about the expected outcome. Other times, a traffic accident or other unexpected event leaves a child without a parent with no warning or time to prepare a goodbye. Regardless of the situation, you should explain to the child exactly what happened. While it is important to use terminology that is appropriate for the child's age group, never lie. Using phrases such as "Mommy went to sleep" or "Daddy is in heaven" gives a very young child the false idea that Mommy or Daddy can wake up or come back from heaven whenever he or she wishes.

Allow the Child to Attend the Funeral

Regardless of the age of the child, it is important to let him or her attend the parent's funeral. Older children already understand the concept, but if they have never been to a funeral before, you may want to walk them through what to expect. Younger children will probably need a more thorough explanation. Give the child the chance to leave a special memento with the casket. There are many options.

  • Drawings
  • Poems
  • Letters
  • Flowers
  • Favorite toys
  • Stuffed animals

During the funeral, you may want to appoint someone you trust to watch over the children so you are free to grieve yourself. Keep in mind that many children act out things they've seen in order to understand them. If you find your child pretending to be sick or dying in the weeks after, it is normal and even expected.

Keep Up With Daily Activities

Regardless of the age of the child, keeping up with daily activities is important for maintaining some sense of normalcy during an emotionally trying time. Children should continue to go to school, participate in extracurricular activities and do the normal chores around the house. Talk to teachers, the principal, and sports coaches to explain the situation and let them the child may need some help.

Answer Questions Honestly

Many children will have questions about the events that led up to the parent's death. They may want to know what happened, whether they will get sick and die, whether their other parent or friends will die, who will take care of them if they do lose both parents and whether the death was their fault. Always answer any questions as honestly as possible and to the best of your abilities.

Look for Warning Signs

For months or even years after a parent dies, the child may have trouble coping. While it is normal to grieve, you should be concerned if the child is always angry or sad, has frequent mood swings, has lower grades for a prolonged period of time, has no energy, cries often or expresses thoughts of self-harm or suicide. 

Call a Professional

As much as you'd like to help, you (probably) aren't a trained grief counselor. If the task of talking to a child about death is too overwhelming for you, call a professional counselor or psychiatrist. He or she will be able to talk to the child and provide insight as well as create a plan to help them get back on their feet.

Above all else, remember to take time to take care of yourself and to grieve as you need to. If you don't do the things you need to for you, you won't be much help when your child comes to you for answers. Losing a parent is an extremely trying event for everyone involved. Ensure you're able to take care of the little ones by taking care of yourself too.

Category: Loss

funeral grief self care relationships family

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