The Struggles Children Face When Grieving the Death of a Parent

When most people think back to their childhood, they likely recall many memories that involve their parents, as our parents are often the ones who help us develop our sense of self and provide the resources that allow us to have these memories. Our parents also provide the basic needs that help us to survive, such as food, water, and shelter. For children who have recently lost a parent, it can sometimes be hard to understand that this resource they have counted on for their entire lives is gone. Being able to effectively explain this to these children and provide them with support in physical, emotional, and social domains is absolutely vital to the success of their recovery from this unthinkable event.

Grief is often conceptualized using the DABDA model created by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. This model is certainly helpful when recalling the stages that may exist during a grieving period, but it is important to remember that these stages may not necessarily happen in the order they are presented, and these variabilities may especially exist for children. Children may experience anger and depression at the same time, or they may not display bargaining behaviors in the same way that adults do. Further, children may seem like they have reached the acceptance stage when they actually are still experiencing other feelings that they are simply unable to express.

The death of a parent results in a complete shift in the way a child experiences the world. If it’s the loss of both parents, or a solo caregiver, the child may move to another individual’s home or may even enter the Child Welfare System if a suitable caregiver is not found. These abrupt changes in environment can make this time even more complex for a child, and it is important to consider these factors as well when interacting with these children.

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 especially attuned to the way these children express feelings and to encourage them to get in touch with them. The path to recovery from the loss of a parent is a difficult one, but it can be aided by caring and thoughtful support systems.

If your child has lost one of their parents, therapy is crucial to helping them. Please contact me today to schedule a time to speak to help your family through this challenging time.