Family Parenting

Grief: helping children cope with losing a parent

Grief
Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

Princes William nynd Harry have opened up about the regret and subsequent grief of their “rushed” last phone call with their mother.

Next month is 20 years since Princess Diana’s untimely death. The grief they experienced as children is unthinkable.

But when losing a parent at such a young age happens, there are some ways you can help your child cope with their loss.

Here are five things to consider…

Honesty

Try to explain in a way that matches their age and level of experience what happened to their parent, as honestly as possible. Try giving them small pieces of information at a time, especially with younger children. This can help them understand better.

Simple words

Talking around the subject doesn’t help and could lead to misunderstandings. Avoid explanations such as, “Your mummy/daddy gone to sleep,” “gone away,” or “gone to heaven.” Language like this may leave your child frightened to go to sleep. Or they may worry when you leave the house in case you don’t come back. Even if you believe the parent has gone to heaven, it can be confusing and worrying for children.

It’s not their fault

It’s common for children to feel that their parent has died as a result of something they may have said or done. Explain simply how and why they’re not to blame.

Explore their grief

Make a memory box and store precious things that help provide memories of the parent. Try creating a photo album or keep a journal of memories and stories about their parent. Put together some questions and answers about their parent that helps build a portrait of them. Things like the parent’s favourite animal, colour, holiday, etc. If the parent in question is terminally ill, for example, do this together as a family before their death.

What’s their story?

Listening to their story will help you better understand your child’s grief. It will let them know they are important and that their relationship with their parent has been recognised. It can help you to understand what they know about what happened and correct anything that’s not quite accurate. Avoid comparing it to what you think they should be feeling or overusing words like ‘time’ as a way of trying to reassure them.