The Struggles Children Face When Grieving the Death of a Parent

The struggles children face when grieving the death of a parent are profound, regardless of the age. When most people think back to their childhood, they likely recall many memories that involve their parents. Our parents are often the ones who help us develop our sense of self. They are at the core of our childhood memories. Parents provide us with the basic needs to survive, such as food, water, shelter and safety. For children who have recently lost a parent, this profound loss can be hard to understand. As caring adults, our ability to explain and comfort children is crucial to their healing. They will need support physically, socially and emotionally, as they grieve.

Stages of Grief:

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross originally conceptualized five stages of grief. They include denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance. This model is certainly helpful but it is important to understand that these stages may not occur in this prescribed order. This is especially true for children. Children may experience both anger and depression at the same time or enter into a prolonged period of bargaining and denial. It could be that they look like they have reached the acceptance stage, when they are actually experiencing feelings of anger and depression, lurking just below the surface. What is clear, however,  is that the process of grieving is unique to every individual, including children.

Grieving the Death of a Parent:

The death of a parent results in a complete shift in the way a child experiences the world. Should both parents tragically die, or a solo caregiver, the child may have to move to another home or enter the Child Welfare System. These abrupt changes in living arrangements can make this time even more challenging for a child. It is important to be sensitive to the compounding losses that may unfold with the loss of a parent and provide additional supports.

There is no “perfect mold” that explains how children experience grief, and individual children will display different feelings at different times. It is important for those close to these children to be attuned to the way these children express feelings and to encourage their healthy expression. The path to recovery from the loss of a parent is a difficult one, but with mindful support and guidance, children can survive and thrive.

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If you are caring for a child who has lost a parent, therapy may be helpful and even necessary.

I am here to help. Call (626) 755-4059 for a FREE, 20-minute phone consultation. Let's co-create a plan of healing for your family.