How to help your child deal with the death of a parent

Losing a parent is especially devastating for a child. Use our tips to help junior cope with their grief.  

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One topic adults avoid talking to young children about is death. Indeed, as parents, we are determined to shield their children from anything that might hurt them, not just phsysically, but also emotionally.

So, it’s all the more difficult to expose them to the realities of losing a loved one, especially if the death involves their father or mother ― the very people who serve as the bedrock of the family.

Psychologist Dr Kit Phey Ling says the death of a parent represents a major and permanent transition for children, as this means that one of the most significant and stable figures in their lives has disappeared.

Explains Dr Kit, a lecturer in the Psychological Studies Academic Group at the National Institute of Education, “They might not be able to fully comprehend the immensity of their loss, and they might not have the skills to deal with this loss. As such, it is imperative that other significant adults step in to help them cope.”

The death of a parent represents a major and permanent transition for children, as this means that one of the most significant and stable figures in their lives has disappeared.

Experts generally agree that it is counterproductive to keep children in the dark when they have lost a parent. It is better to break the news to them gently, give them time and space to grief and let them to do so in their own way.

Most kids will experience what psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross describes as the five stages of grief which she expounded in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. Understand this process of grieving, so you’ll know what the child is feeling, then use it as guide to map out a healing plan. However, Dr Kit also notes that not everyone goes through the five stages in this order:

Stage 1: Denial and isolation
This is when the child first hears that his loved one has died but is unable to accept the news. Dr Kübler-Ross says this is normal reaction in the face of overwhelming emotions. It serves as a defence mechanism that allows the child to momentarily enter a phase where he becomes numb to pain, blocks out painful thoughts and hides from the facts.

Stage 2: Anger
Once denial and isolation start wearing off, reality sets in and the child may start to feel anger. The anger might be shown in different forms ― angry with the parent who died and left him too soon, angry at the doctor who failed to save his parent’s life or at relatives who try to comfort him. The child might even vent his frustrations at inanimate objects