Helping a child after a parent’s death

The surviving parent or caregiver is a key part of helping a child adapt to the death of a parent. Studies have shown that the quality of the relationship with the child and how well the surviving parent is able to parent are the best predictors of how well the child adapts. Things that might help a child include:

  • Keeping an open channel of communication with the child.
  • Continuing to talk about and share information about the parent’s life and death with the child.
  • As the caregiver, trying to remain emotionally healthy yourself – if you need help, get it.
  • Working to be a loving family that sticks together and supports one another.

As the child matures, their understanding of what happened to their parent – and to them – may change and deepen. They may have more questions, or ask questions that you’ve answered before. Keep answering the questions honestly, and check to find out how much the child understands. They may need more support from you to correct misperceptions from their younger years, and integrate this extra information at their new level of understanding. This probably will happen a number of times as they get older.

Some pointers about dealing with children just before and right after the parent’s death are given in Helping Children When a Family Member Has Cancer: Dealing With a Parent’s Terminal Illness

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: December 2, 2014 Last Revised: December 12, 2014

American Cancer Society medical information is copyrighted material. For reprint requests, please contact permissionrequest@cancer.org.