Dear Barb – Helping kids deal with father’s death

Dear Barb:

I am a mother of two young children aged six and eight. Recently, my husband was tragically killed in an automobile accident. We were a happy close family, and I now am just overwhelmed with grief. My children are having an extremely hard time dealing with this tragedy and I really don’t know if they truly understand that their dad is never coming home. My older one seems to understand a bit more than the younger one, but because of that he is more traumatized. I don’t know whether I should just allow my children to work through this on their own or get them professional help.


Judith in Mississauga

I am sorry to hear of your loss Judith. You are in a difficult position, as you not only have to deal with your own grief, but also that of your children. It is hard to know what is the right thing to do.

In my research I learned that children and adults experience grief differently. As well, children handle grief according to their age and understanding. For example, a child under the age of five does not understand that death is permanent. I remember when my mother died and my daughter, who was five at the time, kept asking when grandma was coming back to visit. When I finally got her to accept that grandma was not coming back, she wanted to go to heaven to visit grandma. Undoubtedly, this was a stressful time in our lives.

Older children, between the ages of six and ten understand the reality of death and that the person is not coming back, but that does not mean they can cope any better. At this stage, it is important for you to talk with your children and answer all their questions about what happened to their father. They may ask questions that make you feel uncomfortable. Often children at this age feel a need to know the details of the person’s death. While it is not be necessary to go into extensive detail, try your best to answer their questions as honestly as possible.

Maintaining a daily routine and structure will reassure your children that their world is still intact. This will also help you get through this rough time. Many adults feel it is necessary to hide their grief from children, however allowing your children to see your pain will confirm that what they are feeling is normal.

Whether to seek professional help is up to you. However, if your child’s personality changes drastically, it is advisable to seek the help of a bereavement counselor. For example, if your older son had always been an outgoing, friendly boy and you notice him withdrawing or becoming destructive or abusive, you need to get some outside help for him. Your family doctor will be able to direct you to the resources that are available in your community.

In addition, here are a couple of books you may find helpful:

Wright, H. N. (2004). It’s okay to cry: A parent’s guide to helping children through the losses of life. WaterBrook Press.

Smith, H. I. (2005). When a child you love is grieving. Beacon Hill Press.

E-mail your questions to Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality: your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment only. The author is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.