The grief that accompanies parental death can trigger psychological side effects for your child. If these psychological effects are long term or if they interfere with your child’s emotional or mental stability, there may be cause to worry. As the mom of a toddler or preschooler, you should provide any explanations, support and attention necessary to help prevent long-term damage. Effectively managing grief starts with understanding what behaviors are involved.
To help relieve some of this anxiety that follows parental death, you should make yourself available as much as possible and reassure your child that you are not going to leave. Preschool- aged children experience parental death as a form separation and may fear that the surviving parent will disappear, according to Phyllis Silverman, an associate in Social Welfare at Harvard University and author of the book, “A Parent’s Guide to Raising Grieving Children.” This happens because children that age do not understand that death is not voluntary.
Sadness and Anger
Your child may not cry during the grieving process, but there will be other indications of sadness. These could include preoccupation with memories and carrying around something that symbolizes longing for the deceased parent. Anger is another basic emotion that can be difficult to detect in young children after the death of a parent. You may notice that your child has more nightmares, is irritable or engages in play that is rowdier than usual. Some tips for dealing with the grieving process include listening to feelings and not pushing your child to resume normal behavior too soon.
For young children, the belief that their parent is coming back is commonly due to their developmental level. Your child may view the cause of death as magical or he may reject death as final, because he may have seen cartoon characters bounce back from death. While this can be a form of denial, it is more likely that the young child has not had previous experience with death outside of cartoons and fiction. It is important to encourage questions, provide explanations that convey the truth of death and, in general, to help the child understand loss, according to the National Network of Child Care.
Causes for Concern
Suffering from the psychological effects of parental loss for an extended period can indicate that your child may be having difficulty coping with grief or accepting the reality of death. If the behaviors associated with grief last 6 months or longer, you may need to seek help from a psychology professional. Some behaviors to watch out for include long-term depression, inability to sleep, loss of appetite and prolonged fear of being alone, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.