How To Help Children Cope A Parent’s Impending Death

Dear Dr. Bill,

I have a 4-year- old daughter at home.  Her father and I were divorced when she was a baby, but we’ve maintained good contact and my daughter adores her dad.  But now my ex-husband is dying and I don’t know how to prepare my daughter for this.  She knows he’s very sick, but how should I help her through this traumatic situation?


Dear Michelle,

I’m so sorry to hear about the impending loss of your ex-husband.  Even though you have divorced for several years, I’m sure his death will be difficult for you as well as your daughter.

Very young children don’t really have the capacity to understand abstract concepts like life and death.  It’s likely your daughter may not fully understand what is happening to your husband, and that she won’t be able to understand the permanence of his death after he is gone.

It’s important to remember that your daughter will look to you for “cues” about what emotions to feel and how to respond.  I believe you should be honest about your feelings and acknowledge your own grief.

Also, let your daughter know that you understand that this is a very confusing and sad time for her.

If your ex-husband is a Christian, you can assure your daughter that her daddy is going to live forever with Jesus, even though she won’t be able to visit him or talk to him after he dies.  You might read bible passages to her about God’s promise of eternity for all who believe in Him.

Also make sure to allow your daughter to ask questions and discuss her fears about this situation.  An excellent book that will help you is “Someone I Love Died” by Christine Harder Tangvald.

Thanks for writing, Michelle.  If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” tab on the Family Expert page.

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