Skip to main content

How to support a bereaved parent: Do’s and don’t’s

Losing a child – at any age – is an incredibly painful and gut-wrenching experience. When bringing them into this world, no parent is fully prepared on how to raise their child just right, let alone be prepared for the possibility of losing them – whether abruptly or otherwise. The loss of a child, and the kind of anguish that follows a parent after the fact, can create distance between friends and family members, often centered around not knowing how to support a bereaved parent.

Many people struggle with the idea of death and are unsure on how to approach those types of situations with others, especially centered around what to say to the bereaved parent as to not hurt or offend, but instead support and lift up. If you or someone you know has recently lost a child, here are some ideas that will help you find the right words – or actions – to offer in sad circumstances such as this.

Child loss is not an event, it is an indescribable journey of survival.” -Unknown
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What to do for a parent who lost a child

Do’s

When it comes to approaching a parent who has lost a child – at any point, and at any age – it’s important to remain as empathetic as possible. Each individual grieves differently, and in their own way. The key thing to keep in mind is, there’s no right or wrong way to process the loss of a child. There are, however, ways in which friends and family can support the bereaved parent, ways to approach such a devastating situation, and how to do it well, without causing additional stress or pain for the parent(s).

  • Be present – After the death of a child, parents need more support than ever – and not just getting through the events that follow a death. Funeral services, obituaries and remembrance gatherings are difficult situations, but they are temporary. Parents need support after all the events are over, and life without their child must begin. Being available to talk – or just listen – is often what grieving parents look for from their loved ones.
  • Offer assistance – Getting back to regular life after losing a child can seem unimaginable. How is it possible to go on living without a piece of yourself? Mundane things such as housework and chores are ways in which friends and family can physically support and help a grieving parent, by lightening their load. Sometimes the relief of knowing their home is tidy is enough for parents to relax a little.
  • Encourage open discussion – While it may seem strange – and in some cultures, taboo even – to walk to talk about the lost child, doing so can open the door to an honest discussion about loss, grief, and recovery. It often can be just the thing a mourning parent needs to do, letting go of the hurt and pain they are carrying. 
Claudia Wolff/unsplash

Don’ts

Sadness and grief are never easy to deal with, on any side. It doesn’t matter if you are the one currently grieving the loss or if it’s someone else, the deep-seated pain remains. That is why it’s so inherently critical that the action taken by the support person be genuine and well planned. These are important things to not do or say to a parent in mourning:

  • Say the wrong thing – Even though you may feel your words are well-meant, phrases such as “They’re in a better place now,” or “I know how you feel” do nothing for the situation other than to generalize the mourning parents’ grief.
  • Generalize or overshadow their grief – Telling stories of similar events or situations may seem like a good idea, perhaps to show the mourning parent that life can go on. However, statements and stories of this nature do not add any real substance to the conversation and may intensify the feelings of loss.
  • Ignore the other parent – Sometimes it’s forgotten that when a child is lost that both parents will grieve. By supporting and encouraging both parents to talk, cry, scream, or process in whatever healthy way they need to, both are given an opportunity to alleviate their pain and grief.
Priscilla Du Preez/unsplash

The amount of unspeakable pain, grief, and sadness that surrounds the loss of a child is immeasurable. Each parent deals with the loss in many different ways. They will lean on each other for support but will also require support and love from their friends and family to make it through to the side of healing. If nothing else, simply offering a hand to hold in theirs can be just what the time calls for in those melancholic times. By lifting up and consoling grieving parents in the right ways, you are quietly showing them that life can go on, even after something tragic.

Editors' Recommendations

Emily Pidgeon
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Emily's work has appeared in the Tube City Almanac, Tube City Online and our Affinity Sites. When she's not writing, she is…
What age do babies crawl and when you should worry if they’re not
How to encourage babies to crawl
A baby crawling away from their parent.

Baby's first year is full of super exciting milestones. A monumental one is when your little one begins to be mobile by crawling. Crawling opens up a whole new world for your baby as well as you. Of course, with crawling comes a lot of concerns like what is your baby going to get into as well as worries if your guy or gal isn't. So, at what age do babies crawl? We've got everything you need to know about crawling including what to do if your baby hasn't hit that milestone yet.

At what age do babies crawl
Baby milestones are of course exciting and adorable. Proud parents can't wait to capture those special milestone moments for themselves, family, and friends. Milestones are important for other reasons though. Milestones like rolling over and crawling build upon one another and eventually lead to walking. According to the Mayo Clinic, most babies begin crawling between seven to nine months. Of course, this is only a range which means some little ones may begin crawling earlier or later. Some babies also skip the crawling stage and move right into cruising. There are different types of crawling too. So, let's take a look at common crawling questions parents may have about this monumental milestone.
Types of crawling
For the most part, there are five different types of crawling. Just the like age babies begin to crawl, there isn't a right or a wrong way to do it. The method babies use to crawl is the ideal way for them to do it. These are the basic methods for crawling.

Read more
When do babies start saying mama?
At what age does a baby say mama
Smiling parents talking to their baby

Baby milestones are so exciting, and parents love everything their little one does from day one. Of course, parents can't wait for baby to start talking. Those first words are memorable and proud parent can't wait for baby to say mama and dada. When should parents expect to hear their adorable baby utter their first words? According to the Mayo Clinic, by the end of baby's first year, you may head baby say mama. Most babies begin uttering simple words like mama and dada at around the 12-month mark. Every baby's speech and language development is different though. Some little ones may start talking sooner than others, which is what makes speech and language developmental milestones so important.

How does baby start talking
Even before your baby starts speaking, they’re communicating. Babies use crying as an early communicator. This quickly expand to gestures, signs, and pointing to help parents understand what they want. All these signals help prepare your baby for their talking debut. These interactions teach children the basics of communication and the concept of language. Parents are a baby's primary role model when it comes to speech and language development. Baby's first year is full of speech and language milestones which help little ones on their way to speaking their initial words.

Read more
How to throw the perfect kids’ bowling birthday party
For a cool kids' birthday party, head to a bowling alley
Kids having fun at a bowling alley party

There are so many kids' birthday parties during the year. When it's your kiddo's turn to throw a party, it can be tough to come up with a unique idea. If you're on the hunt for something different to do with for your child's upcoming birthday, plan a bowling party at your local lanes. You will definitely roll strike for his or her special day. Putting together a kids' bowling birthday party won't impact your spare time since the venue takes care of the majority of the party details. A bowling birthday party is a perfect pick for kids of all ages, from preschoolers to teens. So, let's get the planning rolling.

How to plan a bowling birthday party
If a bowling party is right up your birthday boy or girl's alley, then the first step is to check out bowling facilities in your area. Find out if they offer party packages and what they include. Many serve up food options as well as an attendant to help organize the bowlers. Ask if the party pack includes shoe rentals. Usually it does, but you don't want any surprises on your child's big day.

Read more