Supporting Children Through the Loss of a Parent

Team TICS
February 5, 2024

After the loss of a parent, children may feel powerless and out of control (Baker, 2020). Providing children with choices in their day-to-day activities and in their broader healing process can help to restore a sense of autonomy. Even small choices can make a significant difference, allowing children to feel that they have a say in their lives. This empowerment helps to counteract feelings of helplessness and promotes resilience as they navigate their grief (Duncan, 2022).

Healing from trauma is not a journey that children should undertake alone. Effective trauma-informed care involves collaboration with not just the child, but also their remaining family members, caregivers, and educators. It’s about creating a supportive team that works together towards the child's recovery. This means listening to the child’s needs, valuing their input, and working in partnership with others who have a vested interest in the child's welfare (Dimery & Templeton, 2021).

Empowerment is about more than just giving children choices; it's about helping them recognise and build upon their inherent strengths. It involves acknowledging their capacity to overcome difficulties and fostering a positive outlook towards their future (Taplin, 2020). By highlighting their personal accomplishments, resilience, and growth, professionals can help children to build self-esteem and a hopeful vision for their life ahead.

Incorporating these principles into practice not only aids in the child's current well-being but sets a strong foundation for their continued healing and development. It shifts the focus from what’s wrong to what’s strong, steering children towards a path of recovery filled with dignity and respect.

TICS associate, Jessica Parker makes the following suggestions for things you can try when working with children who have experienced the loss of a parent:

“We often overlook the little, impactful, everyday things which children and young people often tell us are some of the most important things. Children I have worked with previously have told me that they felt the safest when adults listened to their stories and experiences without judgment. If we do this well, we can practice acknowledging their feelings and experiences. You could be the first person to give the space to do this! Use language that normalises their emotions, such as, “It’s okay to feel…” or “Many people who are grieving experience…”. Avoid minimising their feelings with phrases like “You’ll get over it,” or “They’re in a better place now,” which can feel dismissive.”

In the aftermath of losing a parent, children require a multifaceted support system to navigate their grief and begin the healing process. As professionals, implementing practical strategies can significantly assist children. Here’s how we can approach this:

Building a Safe and Trusting Environment
Creating a safe and trusting environment is paramount. This involves physical safety in the therapeutic setting and the assurance of confidentiality and respect. The environment should be predictable and soothing, offering a consistent refuge where children know they will be heard and not harmed. Decorate spaces with calming colours and comfortable furniture where possible, and establish a routine that children can rely on. Consistent adults who maintain clear boundaries and a calm demeanour contribute to this sense of security.

Empowerment Activities
Engage children in activities that foster a sense of control and self-efficacy. This could be through art, music, storytelling, or play, which allows them to express themselves in a non-verbal way. Activities like gardening, cooking, or sports can also help, as they offer tangible outcomes that children can take pride in. Encourage decision-making in activities or projects, reinforcing that they have control over certain aspects of their lives.

Family Involvement
When it is safe and appropriate, involve family members in the child’s healing process. Family therapy sessions can help to open communication channels, ensure that the child feels supported at home, and assist the family in understanding the child’s perspective and needs. Support the family in establishing their own routines and rituals that honour the memory of the deceased, fostering a sense of continuity and connection.

Professional Collaboration
Collaboration with educators, healthcare providers, and social workers ensures a holistic approach to the child’s well-being. Regularly share insights (with appropriate consent) and strategies to ensure that the child receives consistent support across all environments. Work together to identify any changes in the child's behaviour or needs, and adjust the support plan accordingly. This multidisciplinary approach ensures that the child is surrounded by a network of professionals all working in concert towards their recovery and development. Through these strategies, we can provide comprehensive support to children
grieving the loss of a parent, promoting healing and growth in the wake of their loss.

Self-Care for Professionals
The work of supporting grieving children is deeply rewarding, yet it also demands a high degree of emotional involvement, which can lead to compassion fatigue or burnout if not managed effectively (Erdman & Winter, 2020). To maintain emotional resilience and provide the best possible care to children, self/collective-care is not a luxury—it is a necessity. Regular supervision provides a space for professionals to reflect on their practice, receive guidance, and discuss emotional responses to their work (Rothwell, 2021).

Supervision can help in identifying early signs of burnout and developing strategies to address them. It is also a forum for exploring complex cases and receiving support in managing them which is one of the reasons why TICS offers a comprehensive supervision service.

Furthermore, it is essential to set and maintain clear professional boundaries to protect both your own emotional well-being and your therapeutic relationship with the child. This includes managing work hours, not overcommitting, and learning to say no when necessary. Boundaries also extend to self-expectations, recognising that as professionals, we are facilitators of healing, not the sole source of it (Jordan, 2023).

If you need any help and support or just a general chat about ‘all things Trauma Informed’, please get in touch with Lyndsay, our Working Together Lead at lyndsay@ticservicesltd.com and our team will support you in your journey.

References
Brown, E. J., & Goodman, R. F. (2019). Childhood traumatic grief: An exploration of the construct in children bereaved on September 11. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 48(1), 149-157.

Dimery, E., & Templeton, S. (2021). Death, bereavement and grief: the role of the teacher in supporting a child experiencing the death of a parent. Practice, 3(2), 146-165.

Duncan, D. A. (2020). Death and dying: A systematic review into approaches used to support bereaved children. Review of Education, 8(2), 452-479.

Erdman, S., Colker, L. J., & Winter, E. C. (2020). Preventing Compassion Fatigue. YC Young Children, 75(3), 28-35.

Jordan, M. (2023). The power of connection: Self-care strategies of social wellbeing. Journal of Interprofessional Education & Practice, 31, 100586.

Kaplow, J. B., Layne, C. M., Pynoos, R. S., & Saltzman, W. (2023). Multidimensional grief therapy: A flexible approach to assessing and supporting bereaved youth. Cambridge University Press.

Smith, L. C., & Dougherty, E. J. (2020). The psychological impact of parental loss on children: A systematic review. Research on Social Work Practice, 30(1), 35-50.

Taplin, S. (2020). Loss and bereavement in childhood. Human Growth and Development in Children and Young People: Theoretical and Practice Perspectives, 191.

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