By Chaplain Julia Rajtar, MAPS, BCC
After the death of a parent, a child’s sense of safety and security is compromised. Children will often ask, “Who will take care of me if you die too?” This is a very real fear for children after a parent dies. How does a grieving parent begin to address this fear? Especially in the midst of their own grief and all the transitions the family is experiencing?
Children often turn to the surviving parent for support and reassurance. Parents, with the support of a counselor, can explore ways to reestablish a sense of safety for their child. The fear of “who will take care of me” is considerable when we realize that the parent who died, was one of the people the child regularly interacted with. While grieving the death of the parent, children also worry about the surviving parent. They may wonder what will happen to the child if the living parent dies?
Guiding Children in Grief After a Parent Death
Parents have two significant tasks in guiding their children in their grief and reestablishing a sense of safety and security. First, parents can provide reassurance to their child(ren) that they are taking care of themselves, sharing with the children, specific examples of how this is happening, i.e. regular physician check-ups, eating healthy, exercising while I mow the lawn, etc.
Secondarily, working with a skilled professional, parents can create a “What If” plan. The “What If” plan, is a plan the surviving parent creates in the event that they were to die. When creating this plan, there are a number of factors which affect the child, that the parent might consider, such as where will the child live, where will they go to school, will brothers and sisters go with the child? Honestly answering these questions and having conversation with your child(ren) about them, can decrease their sense of fear and anxiety and reestablish the sense of safety and security.
For more help and resources, visit our grief support page.
Source: Understanding And Supporting Bereaved Children, A Practical Guide for Professionals, McNiel, Andy, Gabbay, Pamela, Springer Publishing Company, New York, New York, 2018.