The death of a parent can be traumatic at any age, but the experience can be especially devastating for young children. Each child will process a parent's death differently, and a pediatrician or counselor may help you find the most effective ways of approaching death with your child. Finding support and help from family and friends can also help you provide better care for your child during this trying time.
A Child's Feelings before a Parent's Death
Young children may become depressed or withdrawn when a parent is dying, according to KidsHealth. They may take out anger and frustration on others. Other children may feel relieved that a parent's suffering is coming to an end, according to PBS Kids. Kids may feel fearful that other family members will get ill and die, or they may want to spend a lot of time with a dying parent. Other children and teenagers may avoid family members altogether in a bid to deal with grief privately. Your child may also experience difficulties in school or among friends.
Answering Difficult Questions
Young children may feel responsible for a parent's illness and death. Though it may be difficult, honesty about a parent's condition will help children better prepare for a parent's death, according to Dori Seccareccia, a palliative care physician from Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto. Mothers may tell younger children, "Dad has something called cancer, and his treatments are not working anymore. He may die soon. I will be here to care for you, along with our family and friends. You can ask me any questions and we can talk about our feelings together." Kids will likely have many questions, and may feel guilty if they are relieved about an ill parent's death, according to the American Cancer Society.
Child Expectations after a Parent's Death
A child's behaviors may be similar to those prior to a parent's death -- anxiety, sadness, anger, denial, relief and even happiness may all be normal reactions to a parent's death, according to the American Cancer Society. Children may also want to help out with any funeral rituals, like putting together a collage of a parent's photos for the funeral. Encourage your child's involvement in this process. Expressing your grief together can help children feel safe. Children may also likely ask if grief will last forever, if a deceased parent will come back, or what will happen now that a parent has died. If you do not have an answer, tell your child so and reassure her that you will work to find one. Pediatricians, family counselors and grief counselors can help you handle difficult questions.
Getting Back on Track
Stick to the routine your child had before a parent's death, which can provide distractions as your child goes through the grieving process, according to the Pediatric Society of New Zealand. The grief process can last for months, according to KidsHealth. Provide plenty of affection and do not be afraid of discussing a deceased parent with your child. Showing that you will always remember a lost loved one can help your child feel more secure in the wake of tragedy.
- KidsHealth: Death and Grief
- KidsHealth.org.nz: Helping a Child Cope With the Death of a Parent
- PBS Parents: Dealing with Death: So Many Questions
- U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health: When a Parent is Dying
- American Cancer Society: Helping Children When a Family Member Has Cancer: Dealing With a Parent's Terminal Illness
- George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images