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Open Letter to Surviving Parents

If your child has lost a parent you will probably be searching for the best ways to help him/her through this challenging time - this list is for you.mailboxes

Why should you listen to me? Well, because I have worked with hundreds of bereaved children, researched the topic of children's grief after parental death, read other researchers' work, and I have raised three children who lost their mom - I think I might know a few things about this topic.

So here are the things I think are most important to know when raising grieving children/teens:

1. Change as little as possible in their lives. If you can avoid it, do not change their home, their bedrooms, their routines, their friends, their school, their church, their daycare, their breakfast cereal - nothing. Children who have experienced the loss of a parent need stability-- it is #1 in this list for a reason.

2. Take care of yourself. Parents are usually in a hurry to get help for their kids but the bottom line is that nothing works for bereaved kids as well as having their surviving parent/caregiver be okay. So whatever you need to do for YOU to be functional and okay - do it for your kids.

3. Delay dating and new relationships for at least one year. Those kids have already lost one parent - they need the other one, and new relationships get in the way. I cannot overemphasize this - focus on the kids now, not on a new partner.

4. Maintain conflict-free relationships with the other parent's family. That other family is important to the children so regardless of what you think of them, understand that they matter in your children's lives and need to stay involved.

5. BE HONEST!!!!! Do not lie to your children about how their parent died or anything else. The children need a parent that they can trust - be that one.

6. Give the kids breaks from grief. It is completely understandable that you are not in the mood for fun, but don't let that stop you from letting your kids be kids. Arrange for trusted adults to take your children on fun, grief-free outings at least once a week.

7. Help your child maintain memories. Schedule time regularly to enjoy mom's favorite food, write in a memory journal together, work on a scrapbook, look at pictures, tell stories, or just talk together about the parent who is gone. Children need help maintaining the memories, and rely on the adults in his/her life to do that.

8. Educate yourself about children/teens and grief. Children grieve differently than adults, and grieve throughout their childhood/adolescence as their developmental stage impacts their understanding of their loss. You will be most effective if you have a good understanding of what is normal for those who have lost a parent.

9. If you think your child needs help with grief, look for grief support groups. A group setting is very helpful for bereaved children because they are used to being in groups (i.e., school), and it helps them to know they are not the only one who has lost someone special.

10. Know that your child will be okay. Children are very resilient, and while they will always miss the parent who died, they can and will be okay - especially if you are okay. You can do this - and so can your child.

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