For A Child Who Has Lost Their Way In Life
Supporting a Parent Who Has Lost a Child
Advice on offering help and support to a parent whose child has died
Last updated: 25 August 2016
If you have a friend or relative who has lost a child, they will be going through one of the most difficult experiences in life. Their world has been completely changed forever, and finding a way to help them through grief may feel almost impossible.
It is impossible to imagine the pain and confusion of losing a child unless you have experienced it yourself. Even then, everyone’s grief is unique so you cannot assume that a bereaved parent will feel certain things or behave in a certain way. Try to accept that you cannot know what they are going through, but you can try to be supportive and understanding.
Something as traumatic as the death of a child will have a profound impact on a parent, which may affect how they behave. Here are a few things to bear in mind if you are trying to support them:
- They may seem cold or distant. If your bereaved friend isn’t showing any emotion, is avoiding speaking or seems detached, this could be shock. This doesn’t mean they are grieving in the wrong way. When emotional pain is too much to bear, this is the mind’s way of protecting itself. Don’t pressure them to confront their grief before they are ready.
- They may be unable to perform daily tasks. Trauma and grief can leave the bereaved feeling physically incapable of doing basic chores such as cooking, cleaning, or even getting up in the morning. Don’t judge them for not being proactive – instead offer to help with household work.
- Grief does not have a time limit. A parent who has lost a child will grieve for the rest of their life. Although that child is gone, they will always be their child. Do not expect your friend to ‘get over it’. Even 20 years from now they may need support with grief.
- They need to grieve in the best way for them. Everyone grieves differently. Unless they are in danger of hurting themselves or those around them, let them cope with grief as they see fit.
- You cannot fix grief. Know that there is nothing you can do or say to stop them hurting, so don’t try to cheer them up or convince them that it’s not so bad. Often the bereaved just need someone to be there, rather than offer advice or solutions.
- Losing a child at any age is painful. It does not matter how old a child is, whether they were stillborn, a newborn, in school, or a fully grown adult, that parent still knows them as their baby. Do not assume that a loss is easier or harder because of a child’s age.
- Children cannot be replaced. Unfortunately, bereaved parents can hear a lot of hurtful comments after the death of a child, usually ignorance rather than intentionally being cruel. Saying things “You can always have more children” or “Well at least you have two other children” suggests that their child is replaceable, or that they should not be grieving. Try to avoid making comments this.
Ways to help
Sometimes it is difficult to know how to best support a grieving friend, especially if they are coping with something as traumatic as the death of a child. Here are a few ways you may be able to help and be a good friend to them in the weeks, months and years after the death:
- Don’t ignore them. It can be daunting talking to someone who has lost a child, but staying silent or avoiding them can be really hurtful. It can make them feel even more isolated.
- Don’t avoid the issue. Don’t be afraid to talk about their child, especially the first time you see them after the death. Acknowledge that something awful has happened to them by saying “I’m so sorry” or something similar. Ignoring their loss won’t undo it – it will just make them feel as though they should be ashamed of grieving.
- Support them in practical ways. Everyday chores may feel pointless and empty to the bereaved. Doing things grocery shopping, driving them to appointments, cooking or cleaning can be helpful and give them space to deal with their grief.
- Be patient and listen. It may be a while before they talk to you about their feelings, if they ever do. Feel free to ask them how they are doing, but don’t pressure them into sharing. If they do share, just listen. You don’t need to give advice or opinions unless they ask.
- Invite them to events. Social occasions can be a welcome distraction, depending on how the bereaved is feeling on that day. Start small – perhaps dinner at your house with a few friends. Give them an ‘escape route’ by letting them know it’s okay to cancel at any time or excuse themselves from dinner early. Most importantly, you might want to avoid events with children, especially if they are of a similar age to the child who died, as this could be painful.
- Don’t be discouraged if they reject invitations or your help. Just because your friend turns down help today doesn’t mean they won’t want it tomorrow. Keep inviting them to things and keep making small gestures of support without pressuring them to say yes. One day it might be just what they need.
- Don’t disappear after a few weeks. A lot of people are eager to help in the days and weeks after a bereavement, but offers of help often get fewer and fewer a month or so after the funeral. However, the months and even years after the death can be as hard, if not harder, than the initial bereavement. Try to keep in touch and continue offering support when you can.
Grieving for the child
It may be that you too are grieving after the death of the child. If you are a grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin or family friend, you could also be experiencing symptoms of grief such as shock, sadness, anger and anxiety. Even if you didn’t know them very well, the death of a young child can be very upsetting.
While you support the grieving parents, it is also important to let yourself grieve. Acknowledge what you are feeling and find some way of it expressing it. You might want to talk to a close friend or relative – as long as it is not the grieving parent.
For more information on how bereavement affects parents, you can read our page on coping with the loss of a child, or contact a bereavement support organisation for expert help and advice.
Leaving Home… a teenage dilemma
“An Englishman's home is his castle”; so says an old proverb. “Home” is perhaps the most important thing in a person's life – “home sweet home”, as they say. Yet in Britain's teenage culture, home has long been seen as a place to leave, rather than a place to live.
And while the age of independence is, for many young people, becoming later and later, the desire for independence is developing at a younger and younger age.
Leaving home for the first time has always been a difficult turning point in life; today the difficulties are perhaps greater than ever before.
Click here to show vocabulary guide
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Section 1 Background.
THE TEENAGE DREAM
Almost every 16-year old has thought about leaving home.
Many teens dream about leaving home: but the reality can often be much harder than they imagine. Many have been thinking about it, off and on, for years; some have been dreaming of independence since they were twelve, or even younger.
Leaving home is part of the teenage dream.
Recently, a survey of “Young People's Social Attitudes” asked British teenagers for their opinions about leaving home.
Forty-nine per cent of 12-15 year olds thought that teenagers should be allowed to leave home at the age of 16; another 12% said 17, and 8% said “when they want”.
Only 23% of young teenagers thought that they should be obliged to live at home until they were 18!
Yet the teenage dream seems to conflict with the experience of real life; when the same question was put to 18 and 19-year olds, almost half replied that teenagers should not leave home before the age of 18.
Nevertheless, leaving home is part of the process of growing up. Many teenagers leave to go and study or train or look for a job in a different town or city, returning home when the money runs out. Others leave because they just want to get out. Most, specially younger ones, are happy to go home again later; for a small number, leaving home is a definitive break.
HOME OR HOMELESS?
Every year, thousands of young people in Britain leave home in search of a better or more exciting life; many of them go to London, attracted by the bright lights, the night life, the youth scene and the hope of finding work.
16-year olds who leave school with few or no qualifications find it very hard to get jobs; indeed, in some British cities, particularly in the North, finding work is almost impossible for unqualified people, specially young people.
London, however, has less unemployment and more jobs; and though no one imagines that the streets of the capital are “paved with gold” (as in the legend), many teenagers make their way to the capital, hoping to set up a new home of their own.
Though there are indeed more jobs in London than in most other cities, they are not always good jobs, and the the dream of leaving home and finding a job often turns out to be just that; a dream. Many return home; some become homeless.Homelessness is not a new problem, and there are many associations that help homeless people to find somewhere to live. And although, overall, less people keep coming to London in search of a new life, the number of young people doing so has gone up sharply; their reasons for coming have changed too.
London's biggest homeless charity, Centrepoint, reported that causes of homelessness among teenagers have changed ; instead of leaving home because of “pull factors” (the attraction of London, the hope of a job) more and more young people now leave home because of “push factors”, victims of broken homes, poverty or physical aggression.
It's all part of our changing society. In 1961, only about 5% of children (about half a million children) in Britain lived in single-parent families; in 2013, 22% of children, that is three million children, lived in single-parent families. Single-parent families are generally poorer than traditional families.
Even teenagers with caring parents and lovely homes dream of leaving home. Kids in poor or aggressive homes dream too; in their situation, it's not surprising that they may want to make their dreams come true.
Section 2 Teenagers speak.
SIMON: STAYING HOME
“Home’s O.K!” says Simon. “In fact, as far as I’m concerned, it’s the best place to be, even if you can’t always do what you want!! If you live at home, you’ve got to obey a few rules, that’s obvious; but my parents are quite tolerant really! I s’pose it’d be different if they tried to lock me up or something, but they don’t. It’s a matter of respect.. They leave me to it; that way everyone’s happy! Besides, it’s much easier living at home if you can. You get your meals cooked and your washing done for you; and it’s far cheaper than living on your own! I’ll move out when I go to university, but I’ll come home in the vacation. Why not: It’s home, after all, isn’t it?”
SARAH : PULLED
It was one evening in April that Sarah decided to leave home. It was not that she disd her home; not even that she had a lot of arguments with her parents. As a family, everyone got on quite well together; but in the small Dorset town of Crewkerne, there wasn't exactly a lot to do. Besides, Sarah didn't actually live in Crewkerne, but in a village where there was even less to do. She was fed up with school too. Though she had done quite well in her GCSE exams, she had not chosen the right subjects for “A” level and had become disillusioned. Her parents d the village life; her father, a businessman, was always travelling, and enjoyed coming back at weekends to the peace of Dorset; her mother had a part-time job in the town. Her elder brother was away at university, her 14-year old sister was, in Sarah's words, “a nuisance”.
“I just wanted to get out,” says Sarah. “I felt too cooped up; and it was so boring. So I decided to come up to London. For the time being I'm selling beads, but I'm looking for a proper job too.”
Sarah is one of the lucky ones. Her parents are giving her an allowance until she finds a job, and she lives with two other girls in a flat in Hampstead. She's artistic, she doesn't smoke or take drugs, and can talk intelligently. She'll probably get a job quite quickly. “I'm glad I left home,” she says; “I'm 18 now, and I'm in charge of my own life. I go home quite often; but I prefer living my own life.”
Darren claims that he was pushed his home.
“I lived with my mum and two brothers in Bedford, but I couldn't stand it any more. My mum didn't have a job, and she was always yelling at us. I was in care for three years. Then I went back to live with my mum. In the end I just decided to quit. I don't want to go back; not for a while, anyway.”
For the last year, Darren has been living in a hostel for the homeless, and at the moment he's doing a training course, to become a builder.
“There's plenty of work in the building trade in London right now,” he says, “So I should get a job quite easily. Then I'll get myself a proper place to live. I'd to have my own place. A proper home of my own, so as to speak. I can't say I've really ever had a home before.”
Section 3 Living at school.
Often in Britain, it is parents who send their children to make a new home, away from home. At school.
For hundreds of years, “boarding schools” have played an important part in British life.
Not for everyone, of course; far from it. But boarding schools are part of middle class culture, especially in the south of England, where almost 30% of all 17-year olds in secondary schools are in fee-paying independent schools. Many parents (and grand parents) save money for years, in order to be able to send their children to boarding school.
“My dad worked as a flying instructor in Saudi Arabia for ten years,” explains Nikki. “He saved as much as he could, to send me and my sister to a good school. He could have spent it on other things; for instance he could have bought a big BMW, but we've had the same car for five years, a VW, and it was second-hand when we bought it.”
According to classic images, boarding schools are spartan places, with cold dormitories and strict rules; but the image is no longer true. “I started boarding when I was 14,” says William; “The worst thing about it was the first few weeks, when it was all new and strange. But now I feel much more independent. I coming home for hols, but I it at school too. It's not it used to be, with big cold dorms and corporal punishment! You've got to obey the rules, of course; but that's part of life!” For young people who cannot “go away” to school, university offers the chance of breaking free. While in many parts of Europe students tend to study at universities and colleges close to home, the British tradition is very different.
“I certainly wouldn't have wanted to go to college in my home town,” says Tom. “One of the great things about going to university is that you get away from home! Universities recruit nationally, and when you apply, you usually apply to several different universities. You choose your universities for the courses they offer, not because they're near your home.
I go home to see my parents in the holidays, but that's all. As far as I'm concerned, I've left home now. I certainly wouldn't want to go back home at weekends! That's when everything happens!” Click here to show vocabulary guide
Alternative word guide
A levels: exams taken at the end of secondary school – allowance: some money – apply: be a candidate –
beads: cheap coloured stones – besides : also – board: to live at school 24 hrs a day – a break : a complete change – broken home: a broken family – in care: looked after by the local social services – caring: who love and help their children – charity: organisation which helps people – claim : say – conflict with: contrast with – cooped up: restricted, shut in – definitive: permanent, complete – disillusioned: she had lost her hopes, lost her dreams – enjoyed: d – ever-increasing: continually growing – fed up with : tired of, unhappy with – –
fee: money – GCSE: national exams taken at the age of about 16 – grow up: become an adult – hostel: home –
instance: example – off and on: from time to time – overall: in general – process: system, routine –
ranks: lines, numbers – recruit: attract students – runs out : finishes – second-hand: not new – seek: to look for – single: just one – spartan: without any luxury – survey: study – s'pose : suppose, imagine – trade: profession – unemployment: absence of jobs, people without any work – yell: shout – youth scene: the clubs, meeting places and other things that attract young people –
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Home or homeless?
Find words or expressions in the article that mean
1. To look for ………………………………. 2. Teenagers who are sixteen years old ………………………………. 3. Who go to London ………………………………. 4. The fact of having nowhere to live. …………… 5. Families with just one parent …………………….
………… Read the article under the heading then say whether these statements are true or faIse.. 1. Sarah got on very badly with her parents. T/ F 2. Sarah did not do too badly at school. T/ F 3. Both of Sarah's parents were away at work all day. T/ F 4. Sarah is older than her brother and sister. T/ F 5.
Sarah does not want to continue selling beads for much longer. T/ F 6. Sarah is homeless. T/ F 7. She ought to �?nd a proper job quite easily. T/ F 8. She has not seen her parents since leaving home last April. T/ F Dave's Dog…. Dave wrote down some sentences about boarding school and university in Britain on a sheet of paper.
Unfortunately, his dog found the sheet of paper, and chewed out the middle! Can you help Dave by rewriting the middle part of each sentence, using information from the article! 1. Nikki‘s dad …………………………………………………………………………………. …………………………. …………………………………….
…..�?ve years ago. 2. William did not …………………………………………………………………….. at boarding school. 3. British students …………………………………………………………………… close to home. 4. Although Tom ………………………………………………………………………………
……………………………………………………………Edinburgh. 5; Tom comes …………………………………………………………………………………… ………………………………………………………………………….see him.
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This teaching resource is © copyright Linguapress 1997 – 2015. Revised 2015 . Originally published in Freeway, the Intermediate level English newsmagazine. Republication on other websites or in print is not authorised
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