As you may know, grief is difficult and can be very tumultuous due to the nature of loss that may bring about an array of different emotions. Helping a bereaved child navigate grief when you are a widowed parent poses many challenges
One thing, in my opinion, about grief is that the age at which you experience loss determines how you deal with it. There isn’t a right or wrong way to grieve, but I think children and adults will deal with the loss differently.
How a child deals with the loss of a parent will differ from an adult. Adults may experience challenges when grieving, and so will children who have lost a parent.
How do these challenges affect the parent caring for the child? And how can they be overcome? These are some of the things I aim to explore in this post. Different parents will have different challenges to overcome, but there are a few things I feel parents may deal with.
Grieving the loss with your children
I can only imagine how difficult it is for someone to lose their partner/spouse and have to figure out a way to break the news to their child or children.
Parents want to protect their children from difficult conversations to preserve their childhood innocence.
Although It is a nerve-racking thing to do, it is important to make your bereaved children aware if one of their parents has passed. Rather than simply ignoring the fact that the parent is no longer around, hiding the grief or saying they have gone away.
The details of that loss may not have to be shared at that time but it is important that your bereaved child is made aware of the loss.
Additionally, it may actually feel that a weight has been lifted off their shoulders when a parent has told their child about the loss or they discuss the deceased parent through memories. This is good.
Other times it may also feel like a massive burden. The parent must also carry part of the child’s grief along with their own. Frequently, the child’s grief can be more disruptive to the parent than anticipated.
As children are smarter than we think and can be inquisitive when they feel a change in their routine. If a child was particularly close to that parent, they would notice the change, and it will most likely influence how they grieve.
It is important to remember that it is a good step to be honest about the loss and allow the child to begin processing that loss.
Behaviour changes in bereaved children
A child may act differently and out of character due to grief. It may not happen immediately, but as they process their loss, they may be overwhelmed by emotions. This may be in the first year or years after, depending on the child’s age when they encountered the loss.
This may not always be evident in the home, so it may be quite hard for a parent to decide how to deal with it. Children who have experienced the loss of a parent may start acting out. Or they could be more distant and quieter than usual.
Some may feel triggered and respond to their trigger with anger or aggression. The child could lash out at those that bring that parent up.
Aggression is not a good thing but it could help if the parent tries to understand the reason for the aggression and provide reassurance that it is okay to be sad. Additionally adding that lashing out isn’t the best way to handle things.
This may be difficult to explain this to a younger child? And it may not be easy! A way of preventing, well at least trying to, reduce that aggression could be to understand why they are triggered and finding ways to avoid or heal from those triggers.
Tips to help bereaved children cope with their loss
Here are some more challenges widowed parents may face with their bereaved children.
- Providing reassurance to your bereaved child(ren)
Children, and I am sure you will agree with me on this, need reassurance and they need to be provided with tender love and care. It’s understandable when parents want to always reassure their child when something bad happens.
Let’s look at one example: a child falls of their bike. They will most likely sustain a bruise or two and child is hurt and crying because of this. The parent would tell them that they are going to be okay and tell them there is nothing a few plasters won’t heal.
This is a situation where you can provide reassurance because you know that incidents happen and they can be overcome.
How do you provide reassurance to a bereaved child?
One of the most difficult things when it comes to loss and grief is coming to terms with the fact that the deceased is no longer here.
Emotionally, it is not easy to accept. It’s one thing telling a child that their mum or dad has passed away but another trying to reassure them that things will get better. A parent simply doesn’t know how life would be now because grief can be a rollercoaster of emotions.
When I lost my dad, some of me wanted reassurance that I wouldn’t have to experience loss again. I didn’t know who I wanted it from but I just know I wanted it because one loss already turned my life upside down- a second one will cause even more damage.
Children may also want that same reassurance that the one parent they have left isn’t going to die. Loss is out of our control, but in such a situation, the parent can reassure that they will support their child through grief and support them in the best way they can.
It may be difficult to provide reassurance as a parent who is also grieving a spouse, sometimes the widowed parent may be emotionally unavailable. This is okay and normal.
It is important to be honest with th child and say something along the lines of “I’m finding it really difficult could we do this later”. Also having other caregivers, friends or family around to play and reassure your child is a good idea and a relief. Especially when the parent is grieving deeply.
- Talking openly about loss and grief
As said earlier, children are naturally inquisitive and always want to dig deeper! They will ask questions when they don’t understand something and they usually like to ask questions.
As a widowed parent, you may not have all the answers; no matter how simple the questions are, answering them can be quite complex.
Some children want to know what happens when someone dies, and why people die. When talking about loss and grief to children, it is important to break things down in simple ways they will understand and make meaning of what they are experiencing.
These are a few challenges, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Every parent has to do what is in their child’s best interest but it doesn’t always mean they have to do it alone. Children’s literature on grief can be useful to those finding it difficult to support their grieving child.
Here are some useful resources that could help children understand and learn more about loss and grief
The Magical Wood
This is a story about loss, friendship, and hope. The Magical Wood, is set in beautiful wood with a river wandering through. One cold and stormy day, the wind blew a terrible gale. The next day the tree family woke to find that Strongest Tree had fallen to the woodland floor and had sadly died. How would the tree family survive the seasons without the strength of the Strongest Tree?
Balanced Wheel Editorial Volunteer
After the loss of his parents, Jermaine started a podcast, Thinking Out Loud, with his friend Ben who sadly also lost his father at 12 years old and his mother at 19. They explore amongst themselves and with a range of different guests the unspoken truths about grief and mental health.