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Tips for Helping Young Children Cope with the Death of a Parent

By Darlene Oakley HERWriter
 
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helping a young child cope with a parent's death
Steve Lovegrove/PhotoSpin

Many of us as adults have had to deal with the death of a loved one. Perhaps some of us were children when we experienced the loss of a close family member or parent.

Unfortunately, these experiences don’t make it automatically easier to explain death to a child.

How do you tell a child about the loved one’s death? What does a child know or understand about death?

Should a child attend a funeral? Are there things you should or shouldn’t do? These questions are all addressed below.

Basic Coping with Grief Need-to-Knows

Surviving parents and caregivers involved in the family grieving process need to understand that each child processes death differently depending on their age and experience. It’s important that people involved in the support system know how to speak — and listen — to the child. (3)

With infants and toddlers, obviously, explaining is not possible. They will sense the feelings and moods of those around them, and definitely notice the absence of the parent. (1, 3)

Since infants and toddlers will not understand words, it is important to maintain a strong physical connection with them so they feel secure, loved and cared for.

Preschoolers may understand the basic concept of death, but don’t yet understand the concept of the finality of death.

“[K]ids in this age bracket often see things in terms of fantasy or magic, they tend to see the separation as temporary and genuinely believe that the person can be brought back from death if only they wish hard enough.” (3)

Tips for Helping Young Children Cope with Death

1) Be honest with kids and encourage questions.

Children deserve the truth about the changes that have happened in their lives, and “it’s important to create an atmosphere of comfort and openness, and send the message that there’s no one right or wrong way to feel.” (4)

Additionally, children should feeling comfortable coming to you and other support people with any questions they might have. Again, answer honestly. If you’re unsure of the answer, tell them.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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