There can be nothing more painful for a child than the death of their Mum or Dad.
It is natural as the surviving parent to want to protect your children in painful situations, possibly keeping from them what has actually happened, or trying to hide your own upset feelings. Children tell us that sometimes this protection is not what they want: it can leave them feeling left out and confused. As a parent, you can’t help but communicate with your children; even very small children manage to pick up from our body language that something serious has happened. The very bits of adult conversation we would rather they didn’t hear tend to be what they remember. They watch us and will notice and be affected by your reactions even when they are too young to fully understand what might be happening. They know when something significant has happened, and they are capable of taking in and making sense of more than adults tend to realise.
As a parent, it is understandable that your main concern will be your children. Managing your own grief at the same time as being the only parent to your children and supporting them can be a daunting prospect. Try not to expect too much of yourself. The way you manage this enormous loss yourself and how you help your children will have a significant impact on their ability to cope both now and in the future. Finding ways to support yourself is vital. If you are supported to meet the needs of your children they will manage when someone important in their life dies.
The courage it takes to talk to your children about death cannot be underestimated. This is a huge responsibility, which can feel overwhelming. What can help you when you have to make tough decisions is to concentrate on what feels right for you and your children. You know your children best. The most important and helpful thing for them is stability, time with you, a familiar routine and being reassured you love them and are there for them. You will learn to feel more confident in helping them with their grief. Your family will undoubtedly be changed by what has happened, but this does not necessarily mean you or your children will be damaged.
Read more in our booklet, ‘When your partner dies: supporting your children. Information for surviving parents/carers.’
The courage it takes to talk to your children about death cannot be underestimated.