Addressing fears as a parent of a grieving child

By Isabella Simantov

When a child experiences the death of a loved one, various fears may arise throughout their grief journey. Often a parent or caregiver of bereaved children will also experience fears regarding their child’s grief journey. Many common fears are experienced amongst parents of bereaved children, including the fear that your child will feel isolated following the death of a loved one. As a family tries to cope with a significant loss, the dynamics of the family can change and it can be an unsettling time for children. This period may manifest in certain behaviours, such as withdrawal, and certain feelings, such as isolation. A death of parent may lead to other changes such as moving house, changing schools, or facing financial challenges. These changes, along with the death itself, stir difficult feelings and emotions for children to manage. Therefore, it is important to ensure that your child has access to support, specifically for their needs and to maintain as much normality in their life.

Furthermore, the fear of your child’s isolation is often extended to their experience at school. Following a death, it is common for children to fear abandonment or being alone, and this is often expressed in everyday events such as school refusal. Bereaved children’s fears are often transferred onto their parents. When your child expresses certain fears, it is best not to dismiss their fears but rather try not to let their fears become yours. It is helpful to reassure them that everything will be okay and ensure that there’s structure and consistency in their lives.

The fear of not being able to cope with both your own grief and your child’s grief it a common fear amongst parents. It is undeniable that trying to cope with your own significant loss is extremely challenging, although simultaneously trying to help your child navigate his or her own grief may seem incomprehensible. Hence, this is a common fear for parents and can often manifest into questioning whether you are doing a “good enough” job or dealing with it in the “right way”. The key to managing this fear is to avoid suppressing your grief emotions and openly expressing how you feel. Authentically showing your grief to your child will not make things worse. In fact, you may encourage your child to also display their grief and it may draw you closer to each other.

However, it is important to also lean on a support person or counsellor before sharing your experience with your child. This is especially important if your grief emotions become heightened and overwhelming and you may not feel you are equipped or able to assume full responsibility for your child’s grief. Be prepared that neither of your grief journeys will be smooth sailing, although by providing your child with love and compassion, you will allow them to navigate their grief feeling safe and reassured. Remember, in order to take care of your child, you need to take care of yourself.

Addressing fears as a parent of a grieving child

Another major fear often experienced by parents is that their child’s state of grief will never get better. Grief is a process that occurs over time and your child will feel a wide range of emotions after a major loss. The key point is to give your child time to heal from his or her loss. Whilst it is difficult to witness your child grieve and endure many challenging feelings, providing them with understanding and patience during this difficult time will help them heal. Pressuring your child to accept the death will most certainly not speed up their grieving process. Even if your child is experiencing denial for a longer period than you expected, remember that they will accept the death when they are ready to. It is also important to give your child permission and the opportunity to let out their emotions. Despite what may seem to be a regression following a loss, remember that your child’s grief is a process that ebbs and flows over time. Demonstrating patience and understanding is key to supporting your child’s grief journey.