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Supporting Children & Teens Through Grief, Anniversaries & Significant Events

Parenting through anniversaries and significant events after the loss of a loved one can be challenging.

Certain dates may serve as a reminder of a loved one’s death, such as the anniversary of the loss, birthdays and significant holidays.

Reminders of the deceased, such as visiting the grave or attending a funeral or memorial for others, may trigger the pain of a loss. Reminders may also be linked to your senses, sights, sounds and smells, such as hearing their lost loved one’s favourite song. Even though reminders of their loss are inevitable, they may elicit a heightened sense of grief for your child.

Planning

Since everyone grieves differently, it is difficult to anticipate how your child may feel on an anniversary, birthday, or holiday.

Although, preparing your child for how they may feel on these dates will help normalise the fact that such dates may evoke powerful memories and feelings surrounding their lost loved ones. In fact, knowing that they are likely to experience grief reactions may help them understand them and even turn them into opportunities for healing.

Planning together with your child will give them a greater sense of control and may help ease some anxiety in the lead up to these dates.

Your child may want to commemorate special events with ongoing emotional connections with their lost loved one. Alternatively, your child may prefer to keep their memories to themselves and grieve privately, and that is okay too.

There is no right or wrong answer with as to what you and your child should or shouldn’t do. Ensure you reiterate to your child that if they change their mind depending on how they feel on the day that is okay too.

Occasions such as birthdays and significant holidays often come with established traditions and rituals. Some families may want to continue their traditions, and others may want to change them as their ‘normal’ has changed. Either decision is okay and whatever you choose together this year can always be changed next year.

Family and friends

Sometimes concerned family or friends may be unsure of how to help as significant dates approach. Be honest that it is a difficult time and let them know what you and your child needs and how they can be helpful.

It might be helpful to share the plans with family and friends once you have decided what you would like to do on the day. Your child may want to schedule social activities or plans with loved ones during a potentially lonely day to provide them with extra support and remind them that they are not alone in their grief.

Supporting your child

Significant dates may be bittersweet as you and your child experience the painful reminders of the loss, difficult memories of the death, and the joyful times you shared with your loved one.

Strategies to support your child:

  • Look at the calendar and make a note of events and milestones that may be difficult.
  • Ask your child in advance what they want to do on these dates and plan together.
  • Try spend time with people who are supportive of you and your child if they want to be around loved ones.
  • Offer your child to write in a journal throughout the day.
  • Give your child permission to not be okay, freeing them from expectations.
  • Consider ways your child could express their feelings in a creative way, such as art, writing, or music.
  • Offer your child a forum to connect with others and share their memories.
  • Offer your child to do something that makes them feel good. This may be as simple as going to their favourite café.
  • Hold a personal ceremony or ritual, such as lighting a candle.

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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.

How to support grieving kids after Father’s Day

Thank you to our incredible community for supporting our #LetsTalkFathersDay movement.

Many of you have valued reading our guide 5 Ways to Talk to a Grieving Child on Father’s Day’. We hope this helps our wider community support grieving kids through milestones and anniversaries like Father’s Day and encourages more of us to show them we are ready to listen and talk about their Dad too.

We make a special mention and thank you to the Feel the Magic kids who openly and proudly shared their memories and special moments. You are truly inspiring.

We also thank our Ambassador, Supercars Championship Driver, Scott Pye for sharing his memories of his Dad, Robert.

If you missed Channel Nine news, tap the link here to view the segment on our amazing Camper Darcy and his mum Allison as they celebrated Darcy’s Dad Gavin on Father’s Day.

We also extend our gratitude to another Feel the Magic Ambassador, Deborah Knight for welcoming our CEO Adam Blatch on her afternoon radio show.

Adam told Deborah how Father’s Day is a difficult day for many families and, for a lot of us, it is hard to know what to say or how to support grieving kids. Listen to the interview here.

Grieving kids deserve our support

Here’s how to make sure grieving kids keep feeling supported:

  1. Reach out to a grieving family after Father’s Day to check in and see how they are feeling after the day.
  2. Keep spreading the word about our camps, resources, and community – so that by next Father’s Day, even more kids have a place where they belong.
  3. Keep grieving kids in mind during anniversaries and events. A text, chat and a friendly ear could help them through the tough times

You may also find this article ‘Supporting Children & Teens Through Grief Anniversaries and Significant Events’ useful to help support a grieving child.

Plus, our Grief Resource Hub has guides, activities, books, videos and TED talks you may find helpful. And we regularly share blogs with our followers. You can keep up to date with our latest blogs and news articles here.

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Supporting Bereaved Siblings

Siblings are an important part of a child’s world and the relationship between siblings is unique. Therefore, the way siblings grieve is unique too.

Facing the death of a sibling often presents a unique set of complex and emotional challenges. Siblings often experience a range of conflicting feelings for each other, and their relationship usually changes over time. They may sway between looking up to one another and caring for each other, and feelings of resentment, responsibility or jealousy for one another.

Past sibling dynamics can often affect the surviving child’s grief. Research findings indicate that the death of a sibling may have a potentially significant impact on the psychological and physical wellbeing of the remaining child (1).

Further research reveals that some potential consequences following the death of a sibling include increased depression, suicide attempts, physician visits, anxiety, illicit substance use, mortality risk and lower educational attainment (1,2,3,4).

Suicide incidence rates between 2017 – 2019 indicate that suicide was the leading cause of death among Australians aged 15-24 years (5). The high prevalence rate of death by suicide among young people indicates that many children grieve the loss of a sibling to suicide.

5 common grief responses

Guilt: Guilt can stem from a sibling questioning why they were spared because they feel no better than, or inferior to, the sibling who died. It is important to acknowledge that many siblings feel guilty and address their irrational thoughts by reassuring them that they are just as important and loved as the child who died. It is also important to provide them with honest and clear information to ensure they don’t draw wrong conclusions and blame themselves.

Regrets: Surviving siblings may express regrets or remorse about things they did or said to the sibling who died. They may reflect on fights and instances that they “wished” that their sibling would disappear or die and believe that their own thoughts and feelings caused the death.

Normalise your child’s feelings by reassuring them that all brothers and sisters fight or disagree at times, and this is a natural part of sibling relationships. It may be helpful to explain what caused the sibling’s death.

Explain that all children feel angry or have unkind thoughts about family members from time to time, but those feelings or wishes cannot cause a death to happen.

Lack of expressing feelings: It can be difficult to talk about your child who has died, especially if you feel that surviving children are too young to understand and should be protected.

Children may misinterpret the lack of open communication, that it is not okay to talk about their own feelings about the death. They might try to hide their own feelings, or even develop physical symptoms.

Open communication will help you to understand your child’s feelings, fears, and understanding around their sibling’s death. Although it can be difficult, it is important to give children honest, age-appropriate information so that they can feel comfortable coming to you with questions, concerns and feelings.

You can also look for and use opportunities to talk about their sibling who died by sharing stories and memories.

Confusion around changes: The death of a sibling often leads to changes in the structure of the family, and in the roles of the surviving siblings. These changes may give surviving siblings a sense of pride in their newfound responsibilities, or it may result in feelings of pressure or resentment.

Some children may feel that they are expected to replace or live up to the behaviour and goals of the sibling who died. They might respond by acting out or rejecting their new place in the family, or they might take on a caretaker role.

A family meeting or one-on-one talks with a goal of discussing different household jobs and responsibilities can be an effective way for everyone to share feelings and to create new family routines.

Sadness and isolation: Some children strive to be like their sibling, some are protective, and some feel challenged by them. Nonetheless there is often a strong sense of connection between siblings.

After the death of a sibling, the surviving sibling can be left in a place of confusing emotions. Surviving siblings may experience intense sadness and feelings of loneliness and isolation. They may also experience a loss of appetite, sleep difficulties, a decline in academic performance, and/or lack of interest in normal activities.

No matter how they react to the loss of a sibling, always be honest, provide clear information and ensure they receive consistent love and care.

Parent self-care

You may feel you need to always be available for the needs of your grieving child, but it is vitally important you also take time to look after yourself and your own grief. To best support yourself through this difficult time, make self-care a priority. We have created some parent self-care guides, found on our Grief Resource Hub

Feel the Magic exists to help grieving kids heal with free camps, strategies and resources to prepare them for living healthily with grief. All our programs are evidence-informed and created by psychologists. Feel the Magic is a place where families experiencing grief can belong. All our programs are completely free to families thanks to our generous donors and supporters.

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Returning to school following the death of a loved one

Returning to school following a significant loss can bring up a range of feelings and emotions for bereaved children.

The absence of security from loved ones is a common fear. On the other hand, some children may find that the return to school feels like respite from the intensity of family grief.

No matter how they are feeling or what they are experiencing, returning to school is an adjustment that you can navigate together.

Notify the school

It is important that the school is aware of the circumstances prior to your child’s return to school, so they can help support your child during this time.

Informing the school that your child has experienced a significant loss may be a difficult task to do as a parent, and you may want to ask a close friend or family member to contact the school for you or join you during the conversation as a support person.

Involve the class teacher

The class teacher will often play a crucial role in supporting a bereaved child’s transition back into the school environment. Acknowledging to the child that they are aware of the death is a simple, although very supportive gesture.

Letting the child know that they’re available to talk or listen at any time will also make them feel more comfortable adjusting back to school.

Other strategies for teachers:

  • Create an inclusive environment throughout the school year, but be particularly mindful on days such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Involve them in decision making, such as asking if they would like to participate in the craft activities and stalls related to these days, rather than assuming they would rather not attend.   Use language that is sensitive and appropriate to all students, such as “a parent or caregiver”, rather than “mum” or “dad”.
  • Make yourself available to have open and judgement free conversations.
  • Be flexible with schoolwork and homework, as grieving children might have difficulties with their  memory and concentration.
  • normal school routines and classroom structures, as consistency in the child’s environment is crucial to maintaining their sense of psychological safety at school.

Access support from the school

If support from the school is available for your child, such as wellbeing or psychological support, it may be beneficial tuse these services.

The return to school following a significant loss is a daunting and overwhelming experience for many children. IIt is important to facilitate support for your child to express their thoughts, worries, and feelings with a qualified mental health professional. The school may also be involved in working on a plan with you to ensure your child’s return to school is as smooth and comfortable as possible.

Involve your child in a back-to-school plan

Including your child in a back-to-school plan will allow them to feel more comfortable and at ease with the transition. Examples of ideas for the back-to-school plan include:

  • Taking some time out in a safe space when they are feeling overwhelmed, such as five minutes in the book corner or a drink of water.
  • Going outside for some fresh air when they are feeling sad or upset, with a dedicated area they are allowed to go agreed in advance.
  • Bringing a special toy or object to school or using a fidget item in the classroom.
  • Academic modifications, such as reduced homework load or extra time to complete assignments.

Strategies for parents

Some children may not want to return to school, which will present various challenges for you as a parent. Here are some examples of strategies you could implement:

  • Provide your child with something to look forward to at the end of each day. This is a simple and inexpensive way of praising them for being brave. Rewards may include playing their favourite game after school or a soothing back tickle before bed.
  • It may be helpful for bereaved children to take a familiar or soothing object to school to hold when they feel sad or anxious. This could be something that helps them feel connected to their loved one who died.
  • Use language that makes it clear you expect the child to go to school (e.g., ‘when you go to school today’ not ‘if you go to school today’).
  • Try and explore why the child doesn’t want to go to school. There could be many reasons, such as feeling embarrassed, feeling like their friends will treat them differently, worries that they will be bullied, or fear about leaving the remaining parent alone. Uncovering the ‘why’ behind the behaviour is the first step to helping children address these concerns in healthy ways that don’t involve avoiding school.

Whilst returning to school following a significant loss is a major transition for bereaved children, there are also many other changes that children navigate following the death of a loved one.

Click here for further support to help your child through the changes brought by death, or book a call with one of our team to talk about how our face-to-face programs may be able to help your child.

5 Ways to Talk to a Grieving Child on Father's Day

5 Ways to Talk to a Grieving Child on Father’s Day

For many families in our community, Father’s Day can be a difficult milestone. And for many others, they can struggle to know what to say to a grieving child.

Often, because they fear saying the wrong thing, or don’t even know what to say, they say nothing at all.

We want to change that and help children and adults give grieving kids the support they deserve.

Helpful tips for talking to a grieving child

We’ve put together this guide 5 Ways to Talk to a Grieving Child on Father’s Day (as recommended by grieving kids!) to help your child or a friend who misses their Dad.

It doesn’t always have to be with words, a simple text message can make all the difference.

By simply taking the time to let grieving kids know you are there and thinking of them, you can prove they are not alone this Father’s Day.

In the next couple of weeks, we’d also like to invite you, your family and friends to join our movement – #LetsTalkFathersDay.

Building a community of support

We hope to build communities of support for grieving kids, by giving the wider public the confidence to reach out and support them.

It’s also a chance for grieving kids to share how they’d like people to support them around Father’s Day – whether that be through sharing memories, building new traditions, or maybe the opposite – not talking about Father’s Day too much at all. 

Follow us on socials in the coming days and join us to create a movement that helps grieving kids feel safe to talk about their Dad. 

If you’re supporting a bereaved child or know one, you may find our article How to support a grieving child on Father’s Day helpful. It explores the importance of social support as an important aspect of encouraging post-traumatic growth in young people.

You may also find this article ‘Supporting Children & Teens Through Grief Anniversaries and Significant Events’ useful to help support a child or teen through significant milestones.