When a Parent Dies…the Grieving Child


The child was bossing the kids around her, telling them what to do. The others looked bewildered as they tried to accommodate her. I was taken aback by their compliance because all this was happening in another child’s house. Then the mom in that house came over, helped them negotiate boundaries all over again without drawing attention to the eight year old’s behavior. Later, she mentioned to me that the little girl’s mother had died a week earlier after a prolonged illness. At one point they thought that she’d recover but it wasn’t to be. The child was confused and didn’t understand why her mom ‘had to die!’ She had heard snatches of conversation about treatment and prayers but was struggling. Invariably it showed up in her play and interactions with peers. It looked like the neighbours had pulled together and formed a good support group for the child.

My earliest memories of death was that of my grandfather’s. He was old and had been ill but I do remember being scared. I don’t remember being shocked though. That came later, when a very dear friend died in child birth, leaving behind a young daughter. It was an eye opener to see how adults struggled to deal with their grief as they learned to support the child. After many twists and turns, my friend’s daughter (as a teenager) is in a good place.


  1. who provides day to day care for the child,
  2. who remains the legal guardian,
  3. giving the child freedom to be herself and not an extension of the dead parent,
  4. how to negotiate the contradicting messages from professionals…

there are so many things to be aware of.

One point really stood out in the process.

The adults made so many plans about where the child would stay that they forgot to ask the child. She had already lost a parent and being relocated elsewhere, away from the remaining parent, increased her feeling of abandonment.

It is not an easy decision to make, but in such an event adults should ask the child for her preferences too. It is easy to get engulfed in all the details but let’s not forget that the grieving child has the greater need.

Another word of caution…grief is an important and natural reaction to death. You will benefit from professional guidance in learning to help the grieving child. Unfortunately, some professionals are too eager prescribe medication! Be wary if someone prescribes antidepressants to young children. Play therapy, art therapy, and such are better options for grieving children. Antidepressants themselves can have severe adverse reactions, leading to medication induced mood disorders.

I was cleaning house and found this excellent articles on Grief in Children. I forwarded it to the mom who was supporting the motherless child in her neighbourhood. Do read it. These lines from the introduction make so much sense…

It seems senseless to debate which types of grief are the worst. Which are the hardest to bear. Every form hurts so very far beyond normal limits, beyond ordinary words. Profound sadness. It takes our breath away. It aches that much. Every form requires extraordinary coping skills. Every form holds its hazards. However, this childhood form does appear to be among the very worst.



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