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Managing a Child's Behaviour When a Parent Dies or Leaves

By: Sarah Edwards - Updated: 5 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Child Single Parent Behaviour Children

One of the most important things to recognise as a single parent is that you will start to rely more on your friends and family for support, and far from this being an imposition - people will probably be expecting it and will want to help you in any way they can. This will be particularly true if your partner has died, and if this is the case then the behaviour that your children display will need careful handling.

Talking and supporting

You may find that you simply need someone to talk things through with - a problem shared is a problem halved after all. Whatever the issue, you will find that someone has the knowledge, expertise or skill that you need to help you.

Friends and Family

Your friends and family will probably be worried about you and your children, but they may demonstrate that worry by trying to organise you and tell you what to do, and it may be very difficult for you to cope with. Although they have the best of intentions, they may lose it in the delivery so be aware of this and try to be gracious - even if they are driving you to distraction - it’s generally only because they care.

Children and families

It’s a good idea for your children to continue to have as much contact as possible with your family, so they recognise that although their life at home has changed dramatically, their relatives are still there and they can still spend time with them when they want to. Make it a rule though, right from the beginning, that whatever the circumstances of your single parent status, it is not a good idea to discuss an absent parent with the children - unless they want to.

It is always best to be led by children when it comes to discussing feelings and emotions, and if you ask your family to respect your wishes there is no reason to suspect they won’t. Friends and family can be a fantastic ready made support network, but remember that they also know you very well and will feel that they can be very honest and that you won’t mind. Chances are, there will be days when you do, so you need to make it clear to them that you value their support, but that you also know what’s best for you and your children.

Find support

If friends and family members are really proving to be a negative influence and dragging you down by constantly talking about your situation and raking over old ground, then tell them. You need to surround yourself with positive people who will really help you and support you.


  • Don’t pretend that everything is fine when it clearly isn’t.
  • If you can’t rely on your closest friends and family at a time when you really need support then who can you turn to?
  • Stay in control - sitting around all day with a bunch of people who just breed negativity is not productive. If people want to see you then ask them to ring before they call round.
  • If you get on well with your family and your children have a good relationship with them, encourage them to have as much contact as possible.
  • Don’t forget about your children’s friends as well. They need support, help and distraction as much as you do and their friends are important too.

The Professionals

A lot of professional help exists to support single parents. If you really feel you can’t talk to your friends or family, or you have moved to a new area and you really don’t know anyone yet, a good starting point is your local GP or health centre. They will be able to give you some advice and put you in touch with relevant people who can help you with different areas of your life.

For example you may be finding it difficult to cope with bringing up your children on your own, you may need advice on going back to work, managing your finances, looking after your health, and so on.

Professional counsellors, coaches and advisors are all experienced, highly trained individuals who have a detailed understanding of the problems that you are facing. They will not judge you or force you to make a decision about any of the difficulties you might be dealing with, but they will give you the opportunity to talk about everything that is worrying you.

Talking to a stranger

Sometimes, the thought of talking about your feelings and worries to a complete stranger can be daunting and overwhelming as well as very uncomfortable. Talking to counsellors and therapists about things will mean that they do ask you questions that you might struggle to answer. It’s important to be as honest and open as you possibly can. Their role is to guide you through a difficult time in your life and try and find you some solutions that will really help you in the future. It is not their job to solve all your problems for you - they will simply equip you with tools that can help you to manage your life.

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I have 3 children 18,14 and 12 (autistic child) in 2006 our family moved to a very rural area in N. Nevada. I do not care for the area at all and I feel that it lacks a good education for my child with autism. I miss so cal,the lifestyle,education etc., my husband chooses not to go back and my daughter who is in high school wants to stay here ( she feels socially connected) A couple of years ago I went back to so cal for 5 months to take care of my elderly parents who both had major surgeries at the same time. While I was there my son with autism was in a great school making progress, and I felt happy to be back. I came back to n. nevada to be with my family, but I lack energy due to depression and that makes it difficult to be a strong advocate. I want to return to so cal, but the guilt of leaving my daughter makes this difficult. She and my husband however recognize that my I am happier and that my son receives better care in a good school and a mother who is not so sad, I am also worried about taking my son away from his environment. What should I do ?
Sandy - 5-Dec-12 @ 5:59 AM
It is wrong, in my opinion, to write about a parent leaving and dying as if it were the same. A child will understand, or come to understand that death is final. There is no possibility of bringing the parent back. This is very different from the child who retains the lingering hope of re-establishing a relationship with the absent parent. People are very afraid of death especially with a young parent. Whilst abandonment may bring plenty of solid support from friends, death tends to scare them away. Young widows do find themselves alone. Friends and family often back away and when they do talk, they act is af the dead person never existed. You can be desperate for help, even asking for it, yet people seem to develop some kind of deafness. Language such as "you are such a strong person", and "I so admire your courage", give people (those who are still talking to you) permission to ignore your silent pleas for help. When your partner dies, you are not being abandoned. It fees different, both to you and to your children. The children know, or come to know, that their parent desperately wanted to stay but couldn't. That is different than for the child who feels that their parent wilfully left.When your partner dies, the hospital bereavement service may contact you. But like everyone else, they are happiest when they decide you don't need them. Many widows do not feel as if they are 'single parents'. They may still feel the support of their partner. They may still feel married. Feeling 'single' takes a long time, if it ever happens.In death the partner and the children may continue with warm and comforting feelings about the life that went before. With abandonment, there may be only hurt and rejection.
Bluebell - 22-Mar-12 @ 11:30 PM
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