Feel the Magic grief community

How to Prepare Your Grieving Kids for the Holiday Season

Whilst the holiday season is usually a time of joy and celebration, for many grieving kids and teens it can be a time of sadness and loneliness. 

The holiday season comes with high expectations, such as family commitments and large celebrations at home and school. Grieving children often experience these ‘hallmark’ moments differently to others, and this can cause difficult feelings and emotions. For those who have lost a loved one, the holiday season can also intensify feelings of grief and sadness. 

The first Christmas or holiday season without a loved one may also be particularly challenging for children and teenagers. Similarly, Christmas and holiday seasons later in bereavement can also be challenging as children move into different life stages or take on new roles in family celebrations. 

Below are some tips that may help support your grieving child during the festive season. 

1. Balance new and old traditions  

The holiday season often comes with established traditions and rituals. Some families may want to continue their existing traditions, whereas others may want to change them, just as their ‘normal’ has now changed. 

Remind your child that the holiday season does not need to be perfect or the same as last year. Explain to them that as families grow, traditions and rituals often change. Make sure they understand that there is no “right way” to celebrate the holidays and whatever you choose this year can always change next year. Include them in decision making and ask all family members to contribute their thoughts on keeping traditions and/or establishing new ones. 

2. Provide consistency amongst the chaos

Research shows that stable routines and consistency in the environment are important for supporting the psychological safety of bereaved children and young people. However, the holiday season is often a busy time, with guests staying over or activities at unusual times of the day. 

Where possible, maintain the child’s usual routines and structure. For example, if the child is staying at a family member’s house, consider bringing items from home such as their favourite toys or pillows. Similarly, if a child is staying up late watching festive movies, try to maintain the same bedtime routine/structure – just at a later time of the day. 

3. Set realistic expectations

Since everyone grieves differently, it is difficult to anticipate how your child may feel during the holiday period. Setting realistic expectations for how they might feel will normalise the fact that such a time may evoke powerful memories and feelings surrounding their lost loved one. 

Preparing your child that they are likely to experience grief reactions may help them understand that it is normal to feel sadness and grief, but it is also okay to feel happy too. Communicate to your child that they may need to take time to cry or express their feelings to someone they trust. Importantly, reassure them that they are not alone.  

4. Plan together

Letting your grieving child share what they would like to do is an opportunity to teach them the power of remembering. Planning with your child will give them a greater sense of control and may help ease anxiety leading up to this period. 

Your child may want to commemorate the holiday period 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 way. When planning how you will spend the significant days, consider that it may be easier to leave someone else’s house than to ask people to leave yours. 

No two people will experience grief in the same way. You may find different family members may want to do different things during the holiday season. Being open and talking as a family can help to make plans that are sensitive to everyone’s wishes.  

5. Share holiday memories and stories

f possible, share holiday stories about the loved one that the child might not have heard before. For example, their favourite Christmas present from when they were little, or photos of their loved one at festive events. 

Research shows that talking with others who remember the deceased person is an important part of helping children and families maintain a connection with their loved one. Children and young people might also benefit from engaging in activities such as cooking their loved one’s favourite meal, or watching their favourite holiday movie, as another way to maintain this connection. 

6. Ask them how they would like to remember their loved during the holidays

Examples of ways to remember a loved one during the holidays include setting a place at the table or lighting a special candle. Your child may want to use a creative expression such as art, writing or music to remember their loved one. 

Follow us here and on socials for our soon-to-be-released guide for ideas and inspiration from our grief community about how to honour a loved one during the holiday season.

Plus, read our self-care tips for parents during the holiday season here.

Grieving during the holiday season can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, however it’s important to remember that you are not alone. When you feel overwhelmed, you should practice self-care and reach out to access additional grief support services

Feel the Magic offer support to help support you and your child through the difficult times following the death of a loved one. Click here to read further information on supporting children and teens through grief, anniversaries and significant events. 

If you would like to join a support network of other families who understand what you’re currently experiencing, you can join our grief community

Have more questions about what to say to a child when a parent dies or how to support a child through their grieving process? Please submit an enquiry and we will contact you as soon as possible. 

References: 

Boerner, K., & Heckhausen, J. (2003). To have and have not: adaptive bereavement by transforming mental ties to the deceased. Death studies, 27(3), 199–226. 

Schwab, R. (2004). Acts of remembrance, cherished possessions, and living memorials. Generations, 28, 26–30. 

Parent self care during the holiday season

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.

Strike out suicide

Saving lives: One ‘boxing strike’ at a time

Sadly 8.6 Australians die every day from suicide. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians between the ages of 15 and 44.

Strike Out suicide

The inaugural national Strike Out Suicide 14 day challenge starts soon on Monday 5 December and Feel the Magic is a proud and grateful beneficiary of the challenge.

Founded by former professional footballer and TV presenter Troy Gray – who was himself affected by suicide at the height of his sporting career – is making it his mission to unite people across Australia to Strike Out Suicide.

Media Release – Strike Out Suicide 2022

REGISTER NOW FOR THE NATIONAL STRIKE OUT SUICIDE

14-DAY CHALLENGE FROM 5 – 18 DECEMBER 2022

SAVING LIVES: ONE ‘BOXING STRIKE’ AT A TIME

8.6 Australians die every day by suicide.  That’s more than double the road toll.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians between the ages of 15 and 44.

The 14 day challenge starting on Monday 5 December 2022 is an annual campaign encouraging participants across Australia to complete daily boxing strikes to save lives, remove the stigma around mental health and inspire others through connection, hope, fitness, and fun.

Participants are invited to throw as many boxing strikes as they can during the two week fundraising period to bring awareness to the growing incidence of suicide; in addition to removing the stigma and educating the public.  Funds raised via this year’s Strike Out Suicide challenge will benefit the charity initiatives* supported by the Good Blokes Society – helping men to connect, and openly discuss their mental well-being.

A great way to spend the first two weeks of December, the Strike Out Suicide challenge will advance your fitness, improve your mood, reduce stress, and benefit your mental health.  Each participant will throw as many boxing strikes as they can daily during the fundraising period – no boxing experience or equipment is needed… and shadow boxing is fine!

Pick your challenge – how many strikes can you complete each day.

Track your progress – track your daily strikes and monitor your fundraising progress.

Make a difference – the more ‘strikes’ you throw, the more you and everyone you prospers.

Founded by former professional footballer and TV presenter Troy Gray – who was himself affected by suicide at the height of his sporting career – is making it his mission to unite people across Australia to Strike Out Suicide.

* The charity initiatives to benefit from Strike Out Suicide are Outside The Locker Room and Feel The Magic.  Outside the Locker Room is a registered charity providing mental health education and welfare support to sporting clubs, schools and workplaces across Australia.  Feel The Magic is an Australian charity providing early intervention grief education programs for kids aged 7 to 17, who are experiencing pain and isolation due to the death of a parent, guardian, or sibling.

Would you like a world without suicide?  We would.
Together we can save lives… Together, we can #StrikeOutSuicide

WATCH:  A personal video message from the Founder of Strike Out Suicide.

Accept the challenge and register now.

Feel the Magic mentor Rachel

Volunteering can bring a ‘helper’s high’

Volunteering can bring meaning and purpose to your life. It can bring people together by building communities and creating a better society.

There is also evidence that helping others triggers a response in your brain that can give you a buzz sometimes known as the ‘helper’s high’.

Without our caring and dedicated helpful volunteers at Feel the Magic, we simply couldn’t support the many grieving children that need us. Why? Campers benefit from one-on-one trained volunteer mentors at many of our Camps.

Feel the Magic volunteer Rachel

Meet Rachel (pictured as part of the support crew for Magic Ride 2022), one of our amazing volunteers. Rachel initially became involved with Feel the Magic in 2019 as a mentor at Camp Magic in ACT.

We asked Rachel why she joined Feel the Magic as a volunteer.

Rachel’s dad died when she was 11 years old and her brother 14. Rachel said “The first day of camp would have been my dad’s 60th birthday. When I found out what Feel the Magic was and the work they were doing with kids going through the same loss, I had to get involved and join in and help make it a little easier for them”.

Rachel has now attended five camps, two as a mentor and three as part of the wellbeing team. She was also part of the support crew for the fundraising Magic Ride 2022 and has amazingly signed up again for 2023!

Rachel told us what inspires her most about our Campers is “the vulnerability and growth that you see over the course of the weekend.”

Rachel further said that “A program like Feel the Magic would have benefitted my brother and I a lot”.

Feel the Magic is fortunate to have many people like Rachel who understand the significance of losing a loved one as a child, can relate to Campers and recognise the vitality of our programs.

Rachel shared a little bit about her own journey of grief and said that “grief is a non-linear cyclical adventure. It goes up and down and is not something that ever ends. It’s been nearly 16 years since my dad died and there are still days when I am completely blindsided by the grief of that loss but there are also many days when I am not so quite blind sided anymore”.

Benefits of volunteering

Volunteering can offer vital support to people in need and provides individuals with a sense of community. The benefits of volunteering can be profound.

The right volunteering opportunity can help you connect with a community, learn new skills, and even advance your career.

Giving to others can also improve your own mental and physical health and provide a sense of purpose.

  • Volunteering often helps counteract the effects of stress, anger, depression and anxiety. 
  • The social aspect of helping and working with others can have a profound effect on your overall psychological wellbeing. 
  • Being helpful to others provides immense enjoyment, can give you a sense of pride and identity, and ultimately increasing self-confidence. 
  • Doing good for others and the community may provide you with a natural sense of accomplishment. 
  • Helping others triggers the reward pathway in the brain known as the mesolimbic system. The release of neurotransmitters such as oxytocin and vasopressin can give you a buzz sometimes known as the ‘helpers high’. 

No matter your age or life situation, volunteering can provide a sense of purpose, keep you mentally stimulated, and add more zest to your life.

Rachel’s advice to others considering volunteering with Feel the Magic: “Just do it! It is something you will consider for ages and always put off, but once you do it, it’s so worth it… absolutely do it!”.

“Volunteers make the world go around. I knew I would volunteer somewhere sometime and Feel the Magic hits that spot for me. We wouldn’t be able to get through life without people volunteering to help those in need of different services and charities like Feel the Magic”.

Volunteering is a meaningful way to feel a sense of belonging, catch feel-good emotions, embrace your passions, and open the door to life satisfaction.

A big thank you to our volunteers for your unwavering commitment and dedication to the Feel the Magic community.

If you are interested in volunteering with us at Feel the Magic, click here for more information.

References

https://www.sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2017/05/03/7-surprising-benefits-of-volunteering-.html

Dr. Michael Bowen (BA ’08 BA(Hons) ’10 PhD ’14) 

What to Say to a Child When a Parent Dies

The death of a parent is a very difficult situation for a child to face. Unfortunately, 1 in 20 Australian children will experience the death of a parent, and it is the responsibility of the adults in their lives to guide and support them through their grief. It’s hard to know what to say to a child when their parent dies.

Grief is an emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausting process, so make sure you practice self-care. Although you may feel the need to be available to your child at all times, it’s important that you also look after yourself and your own grief. Here are some recommendations on how to approach the topic of death and what to say to a child when a parent dies.

How to tell a child their parent has died

Telling a child their parent has died will always be difficult. If you’re lost for words and don’t know what to say to a child when a parent dies, you’re not alone. Death is an uncomfortable topic for adults, so we often avoid discussing it with our children. However, delaying the news of their parent’s death or trying to soften your words will not help you child nor will it lessen their pain.

If you are in a position where you need to inform a child of their parent’s death, this is what you can do:

  • Create a safe space: You should choose a quiet space where you can talk without distractions. Include another adult if their presence will comfort your child or you.
  • Be prompt & honest: When approaching your child about the death of their parent, use care and be direct: “I need to tell you something important that will be hard to talk about. Dad died today.” Pause, give your child a moment to process this information, and answer the questions they ask you honestly. Use age-appropriate language when discussing the details of the death, if you have multiple children then start with the language appropriate for the youngest child.
  • Be straight-forward: Selecting the right words is important when deciding what to say to a child when a parent dies. Use words when talking about the death, like “died”, “death”, and “cancer”. Euphemisms like “passed away”, “not well”, and “went away” are too vague and can confuse children. They also might lead to your child jumping to wrong conclusions, like thinking everyone who is sick will die, or their parent will come back.
  • Establish open communication: Your child will have a lot of questions, and you may not know all the answers. This is ok, you just need to keep the lines of communication open so your child feels comfortable voicing their thoughts and feelings. Talk about your feelings and show that you are available to answer questions they have. Including your child in your grief and keeping them informed will help them feel more in control and secure in the knowledge that your family will get through this together.
  • Provide comfort: Children will react differently to the news their parent has died, some will cry, some will ask questions, some will get angry, and some may not seem to react at all. It is important that you remain close to your child during the conversation, reinforce that you are both safe, offer hugs, and highlight that they will be cared for and loved no matter what. Body language and non-verbal communication can be just as important as what you say to a child when their parent dies.
  • “You are not to blame”: Children tend to believe they cause things to happen by what they say or do, so you need to reassure them by emphasising that their parent’s death wasn’t caused by anything they said or did.
  • Discuss next steps: The death of a parent will inevitably change your child’s regular routine. Be clear about any new arrangements that have been made so your child can anticipate those changes, for example: “I will pick you up from school like Mum used to.”
  • Funerals & Memorials: You need to include your child in mourning rituals, like viewings, funerals, and memorials. Make sure you explain ahead of time what they should expect. Offer your child a role in the rituals as even a small role can help them take control of the emotional situation and give them a memory of being involved in the collective grief. Of course, you should let your child decide whether or not they would like to take part.

For more information on what to say to a child when a parent dies and how to parent your child through the initial stages of grief, visit our parenting resources hub, or download our brochures on parenting through immediate loss for children aged 7-9, 10-13, or 14-17.

How to support your child after the death of a parent

Once the funeral is over, normal life returns, but it is difficult because normal life for you and your child is different to what it was before the death. There is no easy or correct way to navigate these changes, but here are some ideas for you to consider:

Communication is vital

The death of a parent is traumatic for children, it can make them feel the world is no longer a safe place. They will have a lot of questions, concerns, thoughts, and feelings, you need to make sure they feel comfortable expressing all of them to you. By listening intently and supportively, you can create a sense of safety and support for your child, which will be both reassuring and comforting to them.

You may not always have all the answers, and you may not always know the “right thing” to say to a child when a parent dies, but this isn’t what your child needs. Instead of going straight into problem-solving mode, you should feel with your child. Confronting and working through difficult emotions together will help your child learn to accept and manage them more effectively.

Maintain continuity

Try to maintain your child’s typical routine to the best of your ability, this includes their normal roles and responsibilities at home, in school, and in the community. They will wish to withdraw from these activities in the initial weeks after the death, this is understandable and you should give them this space, but re-engaging in these normal routines is important for your child’s health. It also allows them to move forward in their grieving process.

Physical and family connection

Give hugs! You and your child are going through a very lonely and trying time, hugs and cuddles will help both of you feel connected, and it will give your child a sense of safety and support. If you need some ideas on appropriate connection activities following the death of a parent, access our list of activities here. You can also seek support from family and friends to help look after your child following the death, this will reinforce to your child that they are surrounding by a loving support network and it will give you a break when your own grieving process becomes overwhelming.

Empower your child

When possible, give your child choices and respect their thoughts and decisions. They have opinions and they will feel valued when they’re given a voice in important matters. Leaving your child out of decisions regarding their parent’s memorialisation can hinder their grieving process.

Remember their parent

Keep pictures of their parent in the house, create a memory box with your child, go through rituals and remembrance activities – although it can be painful to be reminded of the person who has died, it’s important for you and your child to reflect on happy moments and fond memories. This will help you both process your emotions and will move you along in the grieving process.

Ultimately, what you want to do is create a safe and eventually happy environment for you and your child. For more information on what to say to a child when a parent dies and how to parent your child through the initial stages of grief, visit our parenting resources hub, or download our brochures on parenting in the first year after a death for children aged 7-9, 10-13, or 14-17.

Grief Services and Support

Although the death of your child’s parent can make you and your child feel lonely, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. When you feel overwhelmed, you should practice self-care and reach out to access additional grief support services.

Feel the Magic offers free camps to help support you and your child in the difficult time following the death of a parent. If you would like to join a support network of other families who understand what you’re currently experiencing, you should join our grief community. Have more questions about what to say to a child when a parent dies or how to support a child through their grieving process? Please submit an enquiry and we will contact you as soon as possible.