Navigating Father’s Day after a Father’s Death: Hospice of Santa Barbara Shares Tips to Help Children Cope after the Loss of a Father

Santa Barbara, CA – One of the most traumatic things a child can experience is the loss of a father. Losing a father shatters the comfort and safety of a child’s world, leaving a sense of numbness, confusion, guilt, fear, anger and sadness. 

While Father’s Day can bring joy and celebration to some, it can be especially difficult for children who have lost their father. Whether a child’s dad passed away recently or several years ago, Father’s Day may bring up difficult emotions and memories. 

Hospice of Santa Barbara (HSB) understands the delicate and complex nature of child bereavement.  The following tips can help you identify the signs of a child who is grieving, as well as how to help children cope with the loss of a parent. 

Signs of Grief in Children

A child’s ability to understand death varies depending on their developmental level and life experiences. Identifying signs of grief in children can help them cope with their loss in a healthy way. 


A child may want to stay excessively by your side, and cry about having to leave for school. They may also ask for help on tasks they had previously mastered. 


Behavioral Reactions  

It is common for children who are grieving to develop behavioral problems such as acting out in class or talking back to guardians. They may also start falling behind on studies and failing classes they previously excelled in. 


Sleeping Problems

Younger children may start having nightmares and want to sleep with their parents. Older children may experience insomnia.



Many children experience feelings of guilt and blame themselves for the death of a parent. They might think it’s their fault for wishing the person would “go away.”


Ways to Help a Child Cope with a Father’s Death


Consoling a grieving child is delicate.  HSB offers the following advice to help a child cope with the loss of their father. 


Tell Stories about their Father

A common misconception is that it makes children uncomfortable to talk about a parent who has died, however that is not the case. It is important to share fun memories and stories. Some examples of phrases you can say are “You have your father’s smile” or “A fun memory your dad and I shared…” 


Be Sensitive about Father’s Day 

Some children may feel ready to acknowledge the day, while others may not. Create a safe space for them and allow them to talk about their father if they feel ready. If they don’t feel ready to acknowledge the holiday, offer a distraction with an activity they enjoy such as watching a movie or going on a walk. 


Be Honest

It is important to be as honest as possible during this challenging time. Saying euphemisms such as “he’s sleeping now” may only confuse the child even more. It is important to give the child an age-appropriate explanation about how the parent’s body has stopped working and will not be coming back. Acknowledge changes and help children understand that life will be different now. 


Be Patient 

Like many adults, children grieve in cycles. They may return to a moment of grief after you thought they had moved on. It is key to respond with patience and understanding. Provide support and comfort and seek out professional guidance if necessary. 


It is crucial to remember that everyone handles grief differently, and what works for one child may not work for another. The most valuable thing one can offer to a child who is dealing with grief is a safe space built on love, support, empathy and understanding. 


Hospice of Santa Barbara

Hospice of Santa Barbara provides professional counseling, support groups, and patient care services free of charge to individuals and families who are grieving the death of a loved one or experiencing the impact of a life-threatening illness. Hospice of Santa Barbara also provides counseling in our offices and on fifteen local junior and high school campuses to children and teens who are grieving the loss of a loved one. For more information about Hospice of Santa Barbara, including volunteer opportunities, call (805) 563-8820 or visit www.hospiceofsantabarbara.org.

Sources: Signs of Grief in Children and How to Help Them Cope, Verywell Family; 9 Ways to Help Children Cope with a Father’s Death, Focus on the Family


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