Helping Kids Cope With Grief

He is one of Australia’s most respected positive psychology and parent speakers, an author and a researcher. He is the founder and owner of Happy Families Family Education.

Dr Justin Coulson invited Feel the Magic Co-Founder and National Virtual Program Lead, Kristy Thomas to his Happy Families podcast recently.

Many of us start the year with energy and feeling excited about life, but the reality is that sometimes hard things happen.

Episode #701: Kristy Thomas

During episode 701 of the Happy Families podcast – LISTEN HERE, Kristy shared the sad statistic that 1 in 20 children in Australia will lose a parent by the time they’re 18, what Feel the Magic is about and how best to support your grieving child.

Kristy also explained how:

  • grief can be isolating for children
  • Camp Magic can turn that feeling of isolation to inclusion amongst a community of other kids in similar situations
  • children usually respond to grief
  • parents should respond to their child’s grief
  • to feel it to heal it
  • to use your words intentionally
  • to look after yourself and your grief

Kristy said “Feel the Magic was born out of my own childhood bereavement as well as Co-Founder with my husband who had lost both his parents by the time he was 30. What we realised actually here in Australia is that there are minimal resources for children and parents to access to help kids through the worst time possible”.

Camp Magic – empowering kids to take control of their grief

Kristy further talked about Camp Magic, our signature and most in-demand three-day camp. We match every grieving child with an adult mentor that comes on the journey with them. They have someone sitting beside them on their journey. At every session during Camp, there is someone there with them to support them. We are there to empower kids to self-soothe, self-regulate, and take control of their grief.

“The biggest thing that’s amazing that comes along with these programs is they get to meet other kids like them. Part of what grief does to a kid is it isolates them. They become very different. They don’t know anyone else that is going through what they are. They don’t know how to talk about it with other people. And so when instantly they meet other kids going through the same thing, suddenly their world opens up to say I am not the only one. There’s a way forward” said Kristy.

Listen to the full podcast here, or on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or iHeartRADIO.

About Feel the Magic

Kristy Thomas and her husband James founded Feel the Feel the Magic in 2013, driven by their personal experiences with grief and a mission to ensure no Australian child goes through grief alone.

We proudly continue this mission and have helped over 1,200 kids and their families through free camps, resources, research to help grieving kids heal.

As a leading charity dedicated exclusively to grieving children, we provide:

  • Evidence-based programs developed by a clinical psychologist
  • Free in-person and virtual camps for grieving kids
  • Grief support communities for teens, children and families
  • Free online resources and support

For more resources to help navigate childhood grief, please explore our Grief Resource Hub. If you’re interested in connecting your child and yourself to a community of people who understand you, and to mentors who can teach you about grief and give you the tools to heal, then please look into our free camps. If you need immediate mental health support for you or your child, please get in touch with a helpline.

Kids, facilitator and volunteer at Feel the Magic Family Day Camp

What to Expect When Children Grieve

Understanding what to expect while your children are grieving is important so you can be better prepared to support them.

Children dealing with grief will experience a wide range of emotions and express themselves in a variety of ways. Children often process emotions differently to adults.

How Children Understand Death

The ability for children to understand death depends on their age and developmental level. From about ages 6 to 8 years old, children begin to understand that death is permanent and irreversible.

Prior to this, they may struggle to understand that death is permanent, or believe it is something that only happens to other people. Once your children understand the permanency of death, they may begin feeling anxious about themselves or other loved ones dying, or become preoccupied with health and safety.

Younger children may not be able to express these complex emotions verbally so they may instead react behaviourally. Although younger children may not understand death, they will still be aware of their loved one’s absence and may feel this loss keenly.

As children approach adolescence, they are usually developmentally capable of abstract thinking and can conceptualise death in a more adult manner. They can understand that death is universal, inevitable, and irreversible. They may start to ask questions about what happens after death. Older children have formed strong bonds with friends, so they may seek support from them instead of turning to their parents and caregivers.  

Feelings and Behaviours

Grieving children will experience a wide range of emotions, including:

  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Vulnerability
  • Sadness/Despair
  • Shock
  • Longing
  • Guilt
  • Anxiety
  • Loneliness

These feelings are uncomfortable and hard, but they are common amongst grieving children.

Let your child know that these feelings are normal and that they can talk to you when they’re struggling with their grief. Also be aware that your child may have sudden mood changes. They may feel good in the morning, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will feel good all day.

Younger children may not be able to vocalise their feelings and older children may not feel comfortable talking about them, so you should keep an eye out for these behaviours:

  • Crying
  • Social withdrawal
  • Restless hyperactivity
  • Absent-minded behaviours
  • Acting out
  • Avoidance

No matter how your children react to the death of a loved one, you should let them know that you understand, you’re not mad at them, and you’re always available to provide comfort.

If you are concerned that your child’s behaviour is putting them or others at risk, please reach out to accredited support services for advice.

Physical Reactions

Grief isn’t just an emotional reaction to death; it may also come with physical symptoms. These symptoms may be a manifestation of the anxiety and depression that often stems from loss. Some physical reactions to look out for are:

  • Tightness in chest
  • Hollowness/pit in stomach
  • Dry mouth
  • Shortness of breath
  • Oversensitivity to noise
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Appetite Disturbances
  • Weight loss or gain

Your child may also experience sleep disturbances and may ask to sleep with you, even if this seems

Common Coping Mechanisms

Coping mechanisms are strategies people adopt to help them manage painful or difficult emotions. All people, including children, will react to the death of a loved one differently and adopt different coping mechanisms. Some common coping mechanisms in children include:

  • Asking many questions about the death
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Misbehaving with attention seeking or aggressive behaviours
  • Treasuring objects that belonged to the deceased
  • Avoiding reminders of the deceased

Older children may demonstrate different coping mechanisms, including:

  • Visiting places that remind them of the deceased
  • Favouring talking to adults and peers outside the family
  • Acting with bravado, as if they are unaffected
  • Hiding or repressing feelings
  • Taking on more responsibilities
  • Acting out with risk-taking behaviours

Coping mechanisms are healthy when they don’t put your child or others at risk, and if they’re not done to an obsessive level. It’s important to seek help for your child so they can develop healthy coping mechanisms that assist in the healing process instead of harming it.

Reaching Out for Help

At Feel the Magic, we are dedicated to helping grieving kids heal. We have virtual and face-to-face camps designed by psychologists and run by trained professionals to give kids and parents the tools they need to connect with their emotions and each other.

Our programs encourage healthy grieving and introduce families to a supportive community. For more information or to register your interest in our camps, please contact us.

If you need immediate help or wish to learn more about other grief organisations that can offer you support, we have created a list of other organisations that exist to support people’s mental wellbeing and grief. You can also join our grief community to connect with other families who have also experienced grief after the death of an immediate family member. 

Always remember that help is available for you and your children, you just need to ask for it.

Read more

What to Say to a Child When a Parent Dies

Supporting Children and Teens Through Grief, Anniversaries and Significant Events

the Hughes Family

The Hughes Family Story

The Hughes Family’s life changed on 6 February 2018. Stu died as a result of a head injury when he fell from a roof he was repairing. Their children Harrison and Sienna were just seven and five at the time.

The family engaged in counselling and play therapy for the kids. During the early days of their grief journey, a friend told them about seeing Feel the Magic on TV.

“I watched countless videos and testimonials about Camp and I remember thinking to myself, if it was half as good as everyone had said, then it would be ok. Harrison and Sienna attended Camp in August 2019. In the lead up to Camp, Harrison was adamant that he wasn’t going. That it was pointless and it wouldn’t fix anything. Sienna was a little more welcoming, but still had reservations. I was determined that they had to go. Call it a mother’s intuition, call it exhaustion, call it stubbornness – they were going! There may have been some bribery thrown in too. It turns out that Camp Magic is one of the greatest gifts you can give to a grieving child.”

“Harrison has made connections and bonds that have changed his outlook and his life. I know that sounds a little dramatic, but honestly it’s true. When Harrison returned home, he was able to see positives and was finally open about sharing them with Sienna and myself. It was such a massive step forward.”

“ When I asked him what was the best thing about Camp? Harrison said: “knowing that other kids have lost their Dad too and we’re not the only ones.”

“Sienna enjoyed her time at camp too, but because of her age when Stu died, she found things a little challenging. She was still engaged and learnt a lot, like breathing techniques that she still uses nearly every day. She also learnt about her “emergency meter” and when to ask for adult support if she can’t regulate her emotions, she learnt about self care and the different “seasons” of grief. She especially loved the memorial bonfire where she was able to write a letter to her Dad and send the message to heaven.”

We thank the Hughes family for their courage to share their personal story of grief and loss.

The Smith Family share their grief and loss journey

The Smith Family Story

The Smith Family’s grief journey started very suddenly on 24 February 2018 when they received a call at 2.00am in the morning.

Clayton was 34 years old when he passed away in a single vehicle car accident in a rural town called Merriwa, in the upper Hunter Valley of NSW. From that instant so many lives changed, but most of all, that of his two children.

After the family heard about Feel the Magic during an interview on Sunrise, Indianna attended Camp.

“The day I dropped Indianna off, she was a heartbroken, angry and confused little girl, but on the day I picked her up, although that grief was still there, it wasn’t so all consuming anymore.

Indianna was more at peace and more accepting of her grief. She was able to put words together to describe her feelings and was able to use strategies she had learnt at Camp to deal with her often unpredictable and overwhelming emotions. But most of all, she found that she was not alone and that there were other girls just like her, who had experienced overwhelming loss too.

Feel the Magic is a great charity not just for kids, but also for their parents. Being a parent of two grieving children is totally overwhelming and emotionally draining, and the parents groups and the online support you receive from Feel the Magic is invaluable.”

“If we have learnt anything from our grief journey and Feel the Magic, it is that everyone grieves differently and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Grief also does not have a timeline but stays with you always – in some ways you just learn to live with the grief better.”

We thank and acknowledge the Smith family for their courage for sharing their personal story of grief and loss.

Feel the Magic camper activity

Resources for Grieving Children

Grief is often overwhelming and can be hard to process no matter your age, which is why it’s natural to feel anxious and lost when trying to help your children heal after the death of a loved one.

You and your family aren’t alone in this struggle as, sadly, 1 in 20 Australian kids experience the death of their mum or dad before they turn 18*.

At Feel the Magic, our mission is to help families like yours heal, which is why we’re happy to provide you with these resources to help you and your child through your grief.

Supporting your child

The death of a parent can leave a child feeling isolated. It’s important as the remaining parent to comfort your child and always remind them that they are loved and cared for.

Providing comfort doesn’t mean you need to always be ‘strong’ – authentically expressing your emotions can help teach your child that it’s ok to be sad and talk about negative thoughts and feelings, and opens up opportunities for conversations about self-care, and positive coping strategies.

A great way to support your children is to  validate their feelings. You can let them know it is normal to experience big emotions during grief, and ensure they feel listened to through your body language, tone of voice, and eye contact.

We know that not all adults are comfortable and experienced at talking openly about emotions. This is why we have a range of resources to help parents communicate with their grieving children. We also have resources to help with your own self-care, because looking after yourself is an important first step towards being the best support for your children that you can be.

Activities for staying connected

When living with grief, getting through each day can take up all your family’s energy, so it’s easy to lose connection with each other. This loss of connection can make the experience of grief even more difficult, so it’s important to put effort into maintaining and strengthening the connections between yourself and your child.

We recommend organising connection activities and have compiled a list of some of our favourites. Good connection activities provide a fun and safe environment in which your kids can connect both with you and the grief they feel for the loved one they lost. You can also use these activities as an opportunity to start conversations with your kids about what they are thinking and feeling.

When to reach out for support

No matter where you and your child are in your grief journey, reaching out for help is always ok. If you need immediate help or wish to learn more about other grief organisations that can offer you support, we have created a list of other organisations that exist to support people’s mental wellbeing and grief. You can also join our grief community if you wish to connect with other families who understand what you are going through.  

At Feel the Magic, we are dedicated to helping grieving kids heal. We have virtual and face-to-face camps designed by psychologists and run by mental health professionals to give kids and parents the tools they need to connect with their emotions and each other.

Our programs encourage healthy grieving and introduce families to a supportive community that understands. For more information or to register your interest in our camps, please contact us.

Tips for Supporting Teenagers through Grief

Tips for Supporting Teenagers through Grief

The death of a loved one is one of the most difficult experiences a person can go through, and it’s tragic that teenagers are faced with that pain. Unfortunately, 1 in 20 Australian children will experience the death of a parent before they turn 18 – many Australian teenagers will also experience the death of a sibling or guardian.

If you are the parent or guardian of a teenager who has recently lost a loved one, then you have come to the right place. You too are dealing with grief. Supporting your teenager starts with ensuring that you are properly supported, so please remember to practice self-care.

Telling a Teenager their Parent, Guardian, or Sibling has Died

Telling a teenager that someone they love has died is extremely difficult. There is no method of sharing this news that will lessen the pain of hearing it. However, there are things you can do to help support your teenage child so they can begin their grieving process in a healthy way.

  • Be prompt: Although informing a teenager of a death is difficult, it shouldn’t be delayed. The sooner they know, the sooner the healing process can begin.
  • Create a safe space: Make sure your teenager is in a place they feel comfortable in when you tell them, they need to feel able to react however they want. It’s also a good idea to have another person in the room with you if their presence will bring comfort to your teenager and to you.
  • Be straightforward: We often use euphemisms terms like “passed away” when referring to death as it can be uncomfortable to talk about it in a direct way. Euphemisms don’t soften the news, they actually make it more difficult to comprehend. Direct language helps remove the stigmas that surround death, making it easier to talk about for both you and your child.
  • Be open: Don’t hide details about the circumstances surrounding the death of a loved one from your teenager, this will make them think that they can’t talk to you about the death. Rather, establish open lines of communication by answering the questions you can, being honest when you don’t know the answer, and telling them that they can always come to you if they need to talk. Be open about your own feelings as it will help your teenager become aware of and feel comfortable with their feelings.

Teenagers react differently to the news of a loved one’s death: some cry, some ask questions, and some don’t appear to have any reaction at all. This is all okay. There is no one way, or correct way, to react when being told about the death of a parent, guardian, or sibling. Throughout the conversation, reinforce that they are safe, you are safe, and you are there to help them through their grief.

For more information on how to support your teenager while informing them of the death of a loved one, download our brochure on the topic.

Supporting a Teenager Through the Grieving Process

Teenagers who have lost someone close to them experience a broad range of emotions, thoughts, physical reactions, and behaviours associated with grief after the death. These reactions aren’t confined to the days and months following the death, they will continue to appear even after years.

Teenagers may express grief differently to adults, they may slip into and out of grief, so they’ll appear to be coping some days but really struggle on others. Their expression of grief can be influenced by age, family situation, relationship with the deceased, and how expected or unexpected the death was.

The task of supporting your teenager through their grief is not easy but learning more about and understanding grief in adolescents will help you. Here are some things you need to know:

  • Understanding death: Teenagers, generally speaking, are capable of abstract thinking and can understand death in a more adult way than younger children. They know that death is universal, irreversible, and inevitable. You don’t need to shield them from the realities of death, they are able to understand it.
  • Typical feelings: Your teenager will experience a large range of emotions, including (but not limited to) fear, anger, vulnerability, sadness, shock, longing, guilt, anxiety, and/or loneliness. They are also likely to experience unexpected mood changes. Common behaviours include crying, social withdrawal, restless hyperactivity, absent-mindedness, acting out, and avoidance.
  • Physical reactions: Grief isn’t a purely emotional experience; it also causes physical reactions. In teenagers, it’s common to feel a tightness in the chest, hollowness in the stomach, dry mouth, shortness of breath, oversensitivity to noise, weakness in muscles, fatigue, appetite disturbances, and weight change. Sleep disturbances are also common, which may result in them requesting to sleep with a surviving parent or loved one for comfort, despite this seeming age inappropriate.
  • Coping mechanisms: There are a range of common coping mechanisms that teenagers often engage in, including favouring talking with adults and peers outside the family, acting with bravado as if they’re unaffected, repressing their emotions, taking on more responsibilities, or engaging in risk-taking behaviour.

To support your teenager through their grieving process, just remember that communication is key! It’s important to create a space for your teen to ask questions, discuss their feelings, and open up about their concerns. Although you may not know the answer to all their questions or what the ‘right’ thing to say is, this isn’t usually what your teenager needs – what they need is to sense that you are willing to ‘feel with them’ in this difficult period rather than jump straight into problem-solving mode.

To learn more about what to expect during the grieving process, information on how to support your teenager in the first year following a death, and how to support them through anniversaries, download our brochures on these topics.

Accessing Outside Support for a Grieving Teenager

While supporting a teenager through their grieving process, it’s important to ensure you are also supported and know that you aren’t alone. There is a community of people in Australia who understand what you are going through as they’ve experiences similar tragedy. Our mission at Feel the Magic is to ensure that families like yours are supported and have access to all the resources needed to heal.

If you want more resources to help navigate this difficult period, please explore our grief resource hub. If you’d be interested in connected your teenager and yourself to a community of people who understand you, and to mentors who can teach you about grief and give you the tools to heal, then please look into our free camps. Finally, if you need immediate mental health support for you or your teenager, please contact a helpline.