Self-care Tips for Parents During the Holiday Season

The holiday season can be a difficult time for anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one. Memories may serve as a constant reminder of the loss, and some families may experience heightened stress and sadness.  

Watching others celebrate can also be painful and overwhelming and contribute to feeling isolated and alone. Holiday decorations and advertisements can also be inescapable triggers. 

As a parent, it is important to prioritise your self-care to help you through the holiday season.  

Set realistic expectations of yourself 

Consider if you can still handle past responsibilities and expectations. For example, you may want to consider shopping online this year if you feel a need to avoid crowds or triggers at shopping centres. Being mindful of your own needs is important when planning for the holidays, planning alternatives, and communicating with others.  

Take one day at a time

Whether you find comfort in old holiday traditions or decide to start new ones, take this period one day at a time. Try not to overload yourself to get through the days faster or isolate yourself until the period is over. You might decide to take a social media break if you feel that it is impacting you during this period. 

Prioritise your health 

Make your mental and physical health a priority by taking some time for yourself. Try to find opportunities to do physical exercise and eat healthy meals. It may be helpful to set aside time every day to meditate, stretch, or go for a walk. It is also important to check in with your emotions and give yourself some forgiveness if you’re being too hard on yourself.  

Lean on someone 

Call or text a friend for support if you are struggling. It is always helpful to have someone to talk to when you are going through a tough time. A mental health helpline is also useful if you need support, but don’t know who to turn to.

Write in a journal or read a book 

Calm your mind or racing thoughts by journaling or reading a book. Writing down how you are feeling may give you a chance to clear your head and move through your day with fewer bottled-up feelings. Others might want to read a book to distract themselves from their difficult emotions, or they might want to read a book on grief and the holidays. Our Grief Resource Hub contains a list of suggested books and media.  

Know your warning signs and take breaks 

Whether or not you communicate your needs or boundaries to others in advance, there is a chance you may find your emotions rising out of nowhere. Take a break when you need to and plan to step away occasionally. Whilst taking time out, you may want to text a friend or practice a breathing exercise. We know that breathwork is a helpful way to alleviate anxiety, depression, and stress.  

Hand on Heart meditation exercise  

At Feel the Magic, we use a simple strategy called ‘Hand on Heart’, which is beneficial for adults and children alike. It works in three ways: 

(1) physical touch serves as a grounding technique to anchor you to your body and in the present moment, rather than ruminating about the past or worrying about the future; 

(2) deep breathing helps to regulate the body’s stress response and soothe any physiological arousal caused by the distress; and 

(3) counting helps you activate the “thinking mind” rather than the “emotional mind” and provides something tangible to focus on besides what triggered the distress.  

Hand on Heart instructions: 

  1. Place one or both hands on your chest, feeling the warmth of your hands on your body. Notice the rise and fall of your chest.  
  1. Close your eyes or look down. 
  1. Breath in deeply for a count of 3 and out for a count of 4. Repeat this 4-5 times.  
  1. Label what emotion you are feeling in this moment. 
  1. Measure your subjective level of distress out of 10. 

Allow yourself to grieve

It is important to allow yourself to feel joy, sadness, anger, or whatever you are feeling. Every family member has their own unique experience of grief and no one way is right or wrong. Give yourself permission to feel your emotions as they are. Remember that experiencing joy and laughter during a time of grief does not mean you have forgotten your loved one.  

The holiday season might be a tough period for your family. In Australia there are a range of resources and support available for both you and your child. 

  • Feel the Magic provide grief education programs and camps for children aged 7 to 17 who have experienced the death of a parent, guardian, or sibling. 
  • Click here to access Feel the Magic’s Grief Resource Hub which contains information to help you through a range of challenges. 
  • When someone dies, it can be hard to know who you’re supposed to tell. Click here to be directed to Services Australia. 
  • Read about how to cope financially after losing your partner. If you need financial support, click here to be directed to Services Australia
  • Talk with your doctor or local community health centre if you or your child require professional support or counselling services. 
  • Kids Helpline is Australia’s only free, confidential 24/7 online and phone counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25. 
  • Beyond Blue provides confidential counselling services. 
  • Griefline provides telephone and online counselling services. 
  • Headspace supports young people (12 to 25 years) who are going through a difficult time. 
  • Lifeline is a 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention service. 
  • Solace provides grief support for those grieving the death of their partner. 
  • Postvention Australia and StandBy support people bereaved by suicide. 

Addressing fears as a parent of a grieving child

When a child experiences the death of a loved one, various fears may arise throughout their grief journey.

Often a parent or caregiver of bereaved children will also experience fears regarding their child’s grief journey. Many common fears are experienced amongst parents of bereaved children, including the fear that your child will feel isolated following the death of a loved one.

As a family tries to cope with a significant loss, the dynamics of the family can change and it can be an unsettling time for children. This period may manifest in certain behaviours, such as withdrawal, and certain feelings, such as isolation.

Changes that can stir difficult feelings and emotions

A death of parent may lead to other changes such as moving house, changing schools, or facing financial challenges. These changes, along with the death itself, stir difficult feelings and emotions for children to manage. Therefore, it is important to ensure that your child has access to support, specifically for their needs and to maintain as much normality in their life.

School refusal

The fear of your child’s isolation is often extended to their experience at school. Following a death, it is common for children to fear abandonment or being alone, and this is often expressed in everyday events such as school refusal.

Transfer of fear to parents

Bereaved children’s fears are often transferred onto their parents. When your child expresses certain fears, it is best not to dismiss their fears but rather try not to let their fears become yours. It is helpful to reassure them that everything will be okay and ensure that there’s structure and consistency in their lives.

The fear of not being able to cope with both your own grief and your child’s grief it a common fear amongst parents. It is undeniable that trying to cope with your own significant loss is extremely challenging, although simultaneously trying to help your child navigate his or her own grief may seem incomprehensible. Hence, this is a common fear for parents and can often manifest into questioning whether you are doing a “good enough” job or dealing with it in the “right way”.

The key to managing this fear is to avoid suppressing your grief emotions and openly expressing how you feel. Authentically showing your grief to your child will not make things worse. In fact, you may encourage your child to also display their grief and it may draw you closer to each other.

Lean on a support person

However, it is important to also lean on a support person or counsellor before sharing your experience with your child. This is especially important if your grief emotions become heightened and overwhelming and you may not feel you are equipped or able to assume full responsibility for your child’s grief. Be prepared that neither of your grief journeys will be smooth sailing, although by providing your child with love and compassion, you will allow them to navigate their grief feeling safe and reassured. Remember, in order to take care of your child, you need to take care of yourself.

Grief is a process over time

Another major fear often experienced by parents is that their child’s state of grief will never get better.

Grief is a process that occurs over time and your child will feel a wide range of emotions after a major loss. The key point is to give your child time to heal from his or her loss. Whilst it is difficult to witness your child grieve and endure many challenging feelings, providing them with understanding and patience during this difficult time will help them heal. Pressuring your child to accept the death will most certainly not speed up their grieving process.

Even if your child is experiencing denial for a longer period than you expected, remember that they will accept the death when they are ready to. It is also important to give your child permission and the opportunity to let out their emotions. Despite what may seem to be a regression following a loss, remember that your child’s grief is a process that ebbs and flows over time. Demonstrating patience and understanding is key to supporting your child’s grief journey.

How to support a grieving child on Father’s Day

Father’s Day can be a difficult day for many children grieving the death of their dad or a significant male in their life.

For many others, they can struggle to know what to say to a grieving child. From fear of saying the wrong thing, they often say nothing at all, leaving the child feeling even more isolated and alone.

We want to help you change that.

Give your support to grieving kids

Evidence shows social support is an important aspect of encouraging ‘post-traumatic growth’ in young people who have experienced the death of a parent or guardian.

Talking with grieving kids about their loved one and their grief is important.

Post traumatic growth is shown through positive psychological changes to their beliefs, self-esteem, and identity, following highly difficult life events. Having opportunities to express their grief is important.

Remember that you don’t need to take away their grief and pain, you just need to hold space for it and let children know that all emotions and responses are valid.

Research, and our own experience of supporting grieving children through our evidence-informed programs, have shown the positive effect on wellbeing of talking with grieving kids.

It doesn’t always have to be with words.

If children don’t want to talk about their grief verbally, conversation and connection can be through things like symbols, drawing, craft, dance, poetry, play, images and text messages.

Grieving children often feel isolated from their friends and community. Others around them may not have experienced bereavement and loss like they have. They can feel detached and alone, especially on significant days like Father’s Day.

Many of us don’t know how to support grieving children during difficult times like Father’s Day.

We asked kids from our Feel the Magic community what they would like their friends and family to say to them on Father’s Day.

Here is their advice on how to talk about their dad (spoiler: they want to be included!), plus we share some of our tips: ‘5 Ways to Talk to a Grieving Child on Father’s Day’.

If you are supporting a bereaved child or know one, there is help available and a community who understand what you are going through.

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

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.

If you need guidance, you are welcome to make an appointment to chat to one of the team. Or join our team at one of our monthly information sessions to learn more about programs, camps and resources.

References

Auman, M. J. (2007). Bereavement Support for Children. The Journal of School Nursing, 23(1), 34–39. https://doi.org/10.1177/10598405070230010601

Metel, M., & Barnes, J. (2011). Peer-group support for bereaved children: a qualitative interview study. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 16(4), 201–207. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-3588.2011.00601.x

Wolchik, S. A., Coxe, S., Tein, J. Y., Sandler, I. N., & Ayers, T. S. (2009). Six-Year Longitudinal Predictors of Posttraumatic Growth in Parentally Bereaved Adolescents and Young Adults. Omega: Journal of Death and Dying58(2), 107–128. https://doi.org/10.2190/OM.58.2.b

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.

7 Things to Consider While Helping Children Deal with Loss 

From telling a child about the death of a person close to them, to dealing with their grief reactions, and finally helping them access support, there are so many things to consider while helping children deal with the death of a loved one. Whilst there are several considerations, they may vary depending on your child’s developmental age. You can find age specific advice on various topics in our Grief Resource Hub.  

  1. Remember that every child reacts differently 

How children cope with loss depends on various factors, including their developmental age, personality, the support they receive, and the relationship to their lost loved one. Whether a child cries, asks questions or doesn’t react at all, it is important to make sure they are listened to and comforted.  

It may be worthwhile to consider the benefits of a bereavement program for your child to normalise their grief reactions, help them grieve in a healthy way, and for them to feel comforted by a community. It is also important to also give your child time to heal from the loss. Grief is a process that happens over time, and each grief journey is different.  

  1. Children might need help to express their feelings 

Children can have big feelings when a loved one dies, but they don’t always have the words to express these feelings, often manifesting into feelings of frustration and confusion. It may be a good idea to start by helping them identify how they are feeling and letting them know that their feelings are normal. By labelling some of your own feelings it may make it easier for your child to share theirs.  

Children might not always feel like talking about their feelings when a loved one dies, and they may express their feelings through play. For example, drawing, music and puppet play can help children express strong feelings like sadness. Furthermore, Feel the Magic’s bereavement programs offer grieving children the opportunity to learn skills and tools to express their feelings about a death in a healthy way. 

  1. Try to keep to a routine, whilst maintaining expectations.  

Maintaining normal routines and boundaries is a way that might help a grieving child feel secure and have a sense of safety. Children find great comfort in routines, and when a child’s world is turned upside down through loss, it is important to provide consistency wherever possible. Try to keep things as familiar as possible, such as school, extracurricular activities, pets and household possessions. 

Whilst it is important to try and be consistent with rules and routines, it is important to make sure there is some flexibility in managing expectations. Bereaved children experience significant changes in their lives, so it is important to make sure they feel prepared for these changes. Expectations provide children with a great deal of comfort. It may be helpful to manage your child’s expectations for the memorial/funeral, changes to the family unit and any other adjustments to their daily lives. 

  1. Consider how grief affects children in various domains 
  • Cognitive Domain – They may have trouble concentrating and/or making decisions. They might experience nightmares, a lack of motivation, or a decline in school performance. 
  • Emotional Domain – Bereaved children tend to go in and out of the grief process. They might express elevated anxiety about the safety of others. 
  • Physical Domain – Bereaved children may feel sick more often, experience headaches, stomach aches, tiredness, lack of energy or hyperactivity. There might also be changes in their eating habits and sleeping patterns. 
  • Spiritual Domain – Grieving children may be curious about death and dying and may ask a lot of questions. They might start to question why this happened and where their loved one is now. 
  • Social Domain – Children that are grieving may become more dependent or clingy, or they might withdraw. They might also attempt to take on the role of their loved one who has died. 
  • Behavioural Domain – Bereaved children might show more challenging or demanding behaviours as well as regressions in their behaviours (such as bed wetting).  
     
  1. Don’t use euphemisms  

Children tend to be very literal and the use of euphemisms may leave a child feeling anxious, confused or scared. It may even lead them to believe the deceased will come back and that death is not permanent. It is important to avoid phrases such as “passed away”, “gone away”, “gone to sleep” and “lost”. Check out our blog post for more information on how to teach children about death. 

  1.   Help your child remember their lost loved one 

In the days, weeks, months and even years ahead, encourage your child to find ways that will help them remember their loved one that died. Remembering is part of grieving and part of healing. This can be as simple as sharing memories of the person who died or bringing up the name of the person who died so your child knows it is not taboo to talk about and remember that person. Children may also want to draw pictures, write down stories, create a memory box, write poems, or create their own memorial.  

  1. There is support available 

Giving your child a sense of comfort, reassurance, safety, love and care is extremely important. No matter what grief your child is facing, outside resources and additional support are highly recommended. Whilst you cannot protect your child from the pain of loss, you can help make sure they build healthy coping skills. Consider the benefit of support groups, bereavement programs and counselling to support grieving children.  

Child grief support

Supporting your child through the changes brought by death

Each year in Australia, around 1 in 20 children will experience the death of a parent or sibling prior to the age of 18*. Despite being so common, too many bereaved children are not accessing the vital child support that they need to grow into adulthood empowered with choice, opportunity, and personal resources.

Child support after death in Australia should enable bereaved children to live a life in which they realise their full potential, rather than feeling helpless, stigmatised, and isolated. The death of a loved one will alter their daily lives, however there are various ways to offer children and teens support after death to help them through these changes.

Supporting a child immediately after death

The initial step in supporting a bereaved child immediately after death is to create a safe space.

When talking to your child about the death of a loved one, it is important to be prompt, honest and straight forward. Use care and be direct, but also give your child a moment to take in your words. Be sure to provide your child with accurate, age-appropriate information, and avoid using vague messages as these will easily confuse a child when explaining death (such as “gone to sleep” or “gone away).

Your child may need you to explain what death means in simple terms. You may not have all the answers and that is okay. The key is to establish and open the lines of communication. It is crucial that you encourage your child to express their thoughts and feelings in the days, weeks, and months following the loss and beyond. If your child needs you to explain death, talk in terms of the body not working anymore. It is also important that they know that death is permanent and happens to everyone at some point. You might say, “Dead means the person’s body stops working. When someone is dead it can’t be fixed, and they can’t come back.”

No matter how your child reacts to the death of a loved one, comfort them, offer them hugs, and keep them close. Some children will cry, some will ask questions, and others will seem to not react at all. Reassure them that the death of their loved one is not their fault. Reinforce that they are cared for and loved, and they are safe, and you are safe.

The death of a loved one will likely mean that your child must cope with changes in their routine. Let your child know what will happen next and be clear about any new arrangements that have been made. Visual schedules can also help younger children adjust to new routines. Discuss any mourning rituals, such as the memorial service and the funeral with your child. Explain ahead of time what will happen at these ceremonies and offer your child a role (such as reading a poem or sharing a memory). It is important to allow your child to decide whether they would like to take part in these rituals.

Adapting to life after the death of a loved one

Bereaved people, including children, often find it difficult to manage the changes in their lives following the death of a loved one. When the funeral and/or memorial service is done, and people go back to work and school, it can be a difficult time for children because understandably everything feels different. It is important to support your child to move forward and create a safe environment for them to engage in a healthy grieving process.

Create a safe space for your child to ask questions, discuss their feelings, and open up about their concerns after the death of their loved one. Maintaining continuity and your child’s normal routines at home, at school, in sports and in the community will be helpful. Engaging with daily responsibilities and pastimes is important for your child’s health and enables them to move forward in their grieving process. Creating opportunities to remember the deceased person through rituals, remembrance activities, or even making a memory box may help them process their emotions.

Supporting a child through anniversaries and holidays

Certain dates, such as the anniversary of the loss, birthdays, and holidays, may heighten children’s grief as they are reminders of their loss. It is important to normalise the fact that such dates may evoke powerful memories and feelings surrounding a loved one’s death. Even though it is difficult to anticipate how your child will feel on these dates, it is best to prepare them in case they need extra support and care.

Together with your child, they may benefit from scheduling social activities and making plans for these days as a family. Making plans is a good way to remind a bereaved child that they are not alone in their grief. Another way to support your child through difficult times is to encourage reflection, remembrance, and reminiscing. You may also want to mark this day with a new tradition, such as cooking a meal that the deceased person enjoyed, lighting a candle, or giving to a cause. Lastly, offer your child time to discuss what they are feeling and what they need from you on these significant, and often difficult dates.

Seeking support for yourself and your child

In Australia, there are a range of resources and support available for both you and your child.

  • Feel the Magic provide grief education programs and camps for children aged 7 to 17 who have experienced the death of a parent, guardian, or sibling.
  • Click here to access Feel the Magic’s Grief Resource Hub which contains information to help you through a range of challenges.
  • When someone dies, it can be hard to know who you’re supposed to tell. Click here to be directed to Services Australia.
  • Read about how to cope financially after losing your partner. If you need financial support, click here to be directed to Services Australia.
  • Talk with your doctor or local community health centre if you or your child require professional support or counselling services.
  • Kids Helpline is Australia’s only free, confidential 24/7 online and phone counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25.
  • Beyond Blue provides confidential counselling services.
  • Griefline provides telephone and online counselling services.
  • Headspace supports young people (12 to 25 years) who are going through a difficult time.
  • Lifeline is a 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention service.
  • Solace provides grief support for those grieving the death of their partner.
  • Postvention Australia and StandBy support people bereaved by suicide.

* 4102.0 – Australian Social Trends, Sep 2010, Parental Divorce or Death During Childhood