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How does the death of a parent affect a child?

There is an inevitability to pain in life that we must accept. No matter how cautious we are, how many steps we take to prevent loss, it simply will happen.

But that doesn't make it any easier to hear about. This is especially the case with children. When a child experiences loss - like the death of a parent - it makes us want to offer them all of the love in the world. If we could take away their pain, we would.

Unfortunately, that's not possible. So how do we, as parents, relatives, and guardians, support the healing of children after the death of a parent?

This article will serve as a guide for those responsible for the mental health of children after loss. We'll cover expectations for reactions, at-home support techniques, and therapy options with a professional.

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Long-Term Effects of The Death of a Parent

Grief Therapy for Children: What To Know

At-Home Care Guidelines for Bereaved Children

Therapy for Childhood Bereavement: Williamsburg Therapy Group

Long-Term Effects of The Death of a Parent

For much of childhood, one's parents are the end-all-be-all of life. They are there to guide, support, and teach their children, helping them through the complicated and often terrifying journey of becoming individuals.

When that anchor point is lost, it can lead to some serious long-term effects, including:

  • Social Anxiety: Parents facilitate their child's social life and development heavily, especially during the younger years. Losing a parent can often mean that a child's social life becomes considerably more difficult. This can manifest as social anxiety or difficulty making friends later on.
  • Depression and Anxiety: Trauma can affect a child's brain permanently, leading to problems like depression and anxiety.
  • Attachment Issues/Separation Anxiety: When a child loses a parent, it's like an anchor line snapping on a boat. To compensate, bereaved children will often seek out and attach to an attachment figure. This can also contribute to separation anxiety.
  • Fear of Death: The death of a parent is often a child's first experience with death. Bereaved children may become terrified of death: either of another loved one or of themselves.

Because of the increased likelihood of mental health concerns in bereaved children, it's imperative to start care early. Both professional therapy and at-home care and support are great ways to monitor a child and start the healing process.

Grief Therapy for Children: What To Know

The most important thing to do for a child who has experienced the death of a parent is to enroll them in therapy with a licensed professional.

As a child's guardian, your responsibility is at-home care and support. A therapist's responsibility is to ensure that the child is getting the clinical care they need.

Consider enrolling them in sessions with a child grief specialist: A professional who is extensively trained and experienced in treating children who have been through loss. Using a specialist will help ensure that the child is receiving the best care possible.

There are many different kinds of therapy that can be used to address grief, such as:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy, where a therapist analyzes a child's thought patterns and then makes recommendations for how they can be restructured.
  • Trauma-focused therapy, where a therapist who specializes in trauma works with the child to help them process the loss.
  • Group therapy, where children who have experienced loss are guided by a therapist to share thoughts, feelings, and stories.

The most important aspect of choosing a therapist for your child is trust. Therapy requires vulnerability, and vulnerability requires trust. A therapist you can trust - and who you think the child can trust - is the best therapist for you.

At-Home Care Guidelines for Bereaved Children

There are many things that parents, guardians, and relatives can do to support the comfort and healing of bereaved children in the home. Let's review some of the most important steps.

Give The Child a Platform

Children are always learning and mapping the world around them internally. Outwardly, their findings usually come in short bursts. Make sure you give a bereaved child the time and attention they need in order to feel heard in the weeks, months, and years after losing a parent.

If you were close to the parent who was lost, it can often be very difficult to hear a child talk about them. Make sure you take care of your own mental health and grief during this time, so that you are A.) making your own healing progress and B.) able to best support the child.

Facilitate Memories

While it's not the best idea to constantly remind a child about their lost parent, you should still provide the resources and guidance they need to properly remember them.

Creating a "memory box" is a great way to do this. Simply grab a few of the deceased parents belongings - ideally smaller, more sentimental things that really represent who they were as a person and, crucially, how they made the child feel - and make sure the child has access to this box.

Pick a regular schedule for bringing the box out for some time for remembrance.

Be There

The most important part of supporting a bereaved child is simply being there to listen to them and support them. Help them continue to live life as best as possible: Bring them to sports games, drive them to a friend's house for a play date. In essence, be as close to a parent as you can be for them, while still taking care of your own mental health.

Therapy for Childhood Bereavement: Williamsburg Therapy Group

The single best thing you can do for a child who has lost a parent is enroll them in therapy. A licensed professional has the training and education needed to ensure evidence-based, clinical progress in mental health.

At Williamsburg Therapy Group, our team of dedicated child psychologists is unrivaled in its grief therapy services. Give us a call, and our patient coordinator will help find the right therapist for your child.

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