How to support a grieving child this father's day

By Isabella Simantov

Experiencing anxious thoughts and feelings following a bereavement is both common, and to be expected. Significant days like Father’s Day can also bring up big feelings.

Grief can make a child or adolescent feel that they have lost their sense of safety and control in life.  Shock, longing, anger, guilt, sadness and anxiety are some of the big feelings that children and teens may experience when a loved one dies. Some of these big feelings may also resurface on Father’s Day.

The following ways might help manage big feelings this Father’s Day:

  1. Talk about those big feelings

Often anxious and difficult thoughts occur when there is something left unsaid or questions that need to be answered. Increased anxiety can also occur when children avoid thinking or talking about their bereavement or loved one.

It is crucial to encourage your child to open up to someone they can trust. Sharing emotions is an important part of the grieving process. If they find it hard to talk about their feelings, perhaps they could write them down or express them through art instead. 

  • Healthy eating, exercise and sleep

Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and having a good sleep routine are all important ways to help children function at their best.

If you find that your child is struggling with sleep due to feeling anxious or overwhelmed by their grief, try a warm bath, listening to relaxing music, doing a Hand on Heart meditation, or reading a book before bed.

  • The 54321 technique

If your child is feeling anxious, teach them the 5 4 3 2 1 technique. This grounding exercise encourages them to notice what is around them by naming:

5 things you can see (e.g., window, car)

4 things you can feel (e.g., shoes on my feet, the chair on my back)

3 things you can hear (e.g., the rain, someone talking)

2 things you can smell(e.g., dinner cooking)

1 thing that helps you can taste

This technique can help to calm your child’s anxious thoughts by bringing them back to what is around them in the moment.

  • A helpful sentence

The most effective time to teach your child helpful strategies to deal with big feelings associated with their grief is when they are already feeling calm and regulated.

Before Father’s Day help your child to think of a helpful sentence, such as “I will be okay, I have been okay before, and I will be okay now”. When your child notices that they are becoming anxious encourage them to say their sentence out loud. They should try and repeat this sentence, not just at times of heightened anxiety, but when they are feeling calm so they can solidify it and can access it more easily when they are feeling worried.

Remember that whilst big feelings and emotions are a normal part of the grieving process, if you feel that your child’s life is significantly impacted to the point where they find it hard to do their usual day-to-day activities, then it is important to reach out and seek professional help and support. Here is a link to our recommended organisations and support services.

As a parent, it is important to seek guidance as you try to help a grieving child or adolescent. If you are supporting a bereaved child or know one, there is help available and a community who understand what you are going through.

Our mission at Feel the Magic is to ensure grieving kids, families and their friends have the support and resources to help them feel and heal through their grief.

Our Grief Resource Hub has guides, activities, books, videos and TED talks you may find helpful.

We have a range of face-to-face and virtual camps, so we can help grieving kids heal – no matter where they are.

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“My 3 kids lost their father 18 months ago, so we are coming up to their second Father’s Day without their Dad. It was a really tricky time leading up to the day, especially for my youngest who was still in Primary school. The focus around Father’s Day at Primary school with Father’s Day craft and the school Father’s Day store, was really hard for her to navigate. Keeping up the communication with her class teacher helped as she was aware of the sensitivity around Father’s Day and made adjustments for her at school to ensure she felt supported.

I really try to follow the kid’s lead for Father’s Day and ask them how they would like to remember their dad on the day. Last year we spent the day together at a special place that they liked to go to with their dad. Just having that time together where we can remember him, talk about happy memories, and be present for each other is really important in keeping us connected”.  Camper parent (Mum), Katrina