Supporting a child after a parent’s death
You should discuss the death of a parent as openly as possible with the child. The child’s teachers, instructors at hobbies and friends should also be told about it.
Children and young people are offered help, for example by social and health care professionals, for dealing with the loss.
The death of a parent undermines the child’s feeling of security. Talk to the child about death as truthfully as possible, but take his or her age and level of development into account. Do not underestimate the child’s understanding, but remember that children understand death quite differently at different ages. A young child usually thinks in concrete terms, and does not understand such phrases as “pass away” or “depart”. Talk about death in simple words and try and answer all the questions the child might have.
When a parent is about to die or already dead, the child may be afraid that the other parent will die, too. You can comfort the child by repeating that the other parent will look after him or her. It is also a good idea to tell the child about other close family members or friends who will support the child.
A child in school age or a young person may want to know every detail about the events, illness or accident that led to the parent’s death. They have the right to know. It is important that the people who are closest to them tell them the truth.
Suicide is difficult to talk about. However, it is better for the child or young person to hear about it from his or her parent than from someone else, or having to guess why the parent died.
You should tell all those that the child or young person is in regular contact with about the parent’s death. This includes the day-care centre or family carer and the school. If the child or young person pursues a regular hobby in a group, telling the adults who lead the activity would be a good idea.
If a child receives regular care from a doctor or otherwise has plenty of contact with health care staff, the care staff should know about the child's loss, as it affects the child’s health as a whole.
Also tell the child’s friends and their parents, and ask his or her teacher to tell the class. You need not talk about the causes. It is enough to say that the parent has died.
A child or a young person may be unable or unwilling to talk when grieving. Encourage the child to talk about his or her feelings, grief or anger. He or she may also feel guilty or afraid after the parent’s death. To deal with these thoughts, the child needs adults, and possibly also professional help.
You can get support for an under school-age child at the child health clinic. A school-age child can be supported by school psychologists and social workers. You can also find support for the child or young person at the municipality's health centre and mental health services for young people. Call the health centre and ask for advice. The social services’ family workers in your municipality may also offer help.
The child may find support and comfort and deal with the grief through play or by reading books intended for children and young people on this topic.
The death of a parent or parents is an exceptionally shocking event. It puts a child or a young person under such great pressure that he or she may need treatment for an acute stress reaction or trauma. If the child or young person is unable to sleep and/or eat or if the situation is otherwise difficult to cope with, contact the health centre. A chronic stress disorder is usually treated by psychotherapy, and also with medication if necessary.