How to Help Your Child

Several lines of research have demonstrated that you can help your children best by focusing on three main things:

First, be emotionally available to your children and communicate with them about how they are coping.

Second, maintain as much routine and consistency in the home as possible.

Third, taking good care of yourself will benefit both you and your children.

Each of these are easier said than done. Some suggestions for making them more likely are listed below:

Communicate with Your Child

  • Be available. Let your children know that you are available to talk and encourage them to ask any questions they may have. Let them know that even if it’s hard to talk about some things, you are there to listen.
  • Be honest. Answer your children's questions as directly as possible. This doesn't mean that you need to tell them everything, but whatever you do choose to share, make it truthful.
  • Bring up your partner in conversation. Demonstrate to your children that it is okay to talk about their mother or father. Tell stories about their parent and encourage them to do the same.
  • Sometimes simple is best. Be careful to avoid answering your children's questions with more information than they need or are looking for. Answer the question at hand and encourage follow-up questions.
  • Remind your child that grief behaviors are normal. There is a wide range of normal behaviors following the death of a parent. Your child will benefit from knowing this.
  • Pick a good time and place to talk. Some children open up better when not making direct eye contact. Talking in the car (when you're both looking forward) or while tucking them in bed (looking up at the ceiling) can lead to meaningful conversations.
  • Enlist friends and family. You are the most important person in your child’s life but you don’t have to be the only one.
  • Shared struggle. You can be honest with your children if you also find it difficult to talk about their parent. Sometimes being with your kids and sharing the struggle to figure it out is the most important thing you can do for them.

Consistency at Home

  • Maintain routines. A lot has changed in your children’s lives. They may find some comfort in day-to-day schedules staying as routine as possible.
  • Keep discipline consistent. Given all that your child has been through, it can be tempting to go easy on them. There are times when letting things slide is the right call. But, keeping your behavioral expectations and discipline the same will benefit your children. This can reassure your child that while much has changed, not everything is different.

When to Seek Professional Help

Not every child who loses a parent needs professional counseling, but sometimes doing so is necessary and can be extraordinarily helpful.

While it can be difficult to decide when to seek outside help, you know your child best. If your child’s concerning behaviors persist and intensify, it may be a sign that he or she would benefit from counseling. The following are some behaviors that may warrant seeking professional help:

  • Acting out at home or school more than normal
  • Drop in school performance that does not improve over time
  • Onset of bedwetting
  • Excessive clinginess
  • Persistent physical complaints with no clear physical cause
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Persistent nightmares
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Excessive guilt
  • Thoughts or statements about suicide

The more of these behaviors that your child shows, the more likely it is that he or she may benefit from counseling. Take seriously any thoughts your child has of harming him or herself and take action if needed. Talking about wanting to be with Mommy in heaven as an expression of missing her is normal. If you sense that your child may act on these feelings, seek help immediately.