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.

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.

Erebus Motorsports #99

Kostecki/Russell and Geoff Booth Foundation raise $10,000 for Feel the Magic

Feel the Magic is immensely grateful to Erebus Motorsport’s Brodie Kostecki and David Russell, who, as part of a pledge by The Geoff Booth Foundation, raised $10,000 for Feel the Magic.

The Geoff Booth Foundation pledged $10,000 for the #99 to reach the Top Ten Shootout at the Bathurst 1000, where Kostecki qualified the car in ninth.

Read more about the incredible legacy left by Geoff Booth and Annie Tan, and the impressive efforts of Erebus Motorsport’s Brodie Kostecki and David Russell in this release.

News release by Erebus Motorsports, Geoff Booth Foundation and Feel the Magic

Erebus Motorsport’s Brodie Kostecki and David Russell have raised $10,000 for the team’s Official Charity Partner Feel the Magic, as part of an incentive from the Geoff Booth Foundation.

The Geoff Booth Foundation pledged $10,000 for the #99 to reach the Top Ten Shootout at last weekend’s Bathurst 1000, where Kostecki qualified the car in ninth on Friday.

“The Geoff Booth Foundation was delighted to have the opportunity to partner up with both the Erebus Motorsport Team and Feel The Magic for this fantastic initiative,” Foundation Member Rhys Kinder said.

“We saw an opportunity to not only provide an extra incentive to see the 99 car reach the Bathurst 1000 Top 10 Shootout but also support the fantastic work the Feel the Magic team do in providing grief counselling programs for kids aged 7 to 17 who are experiencing isolation due to the death of a loved one.”

The Foundation was created in 2009 and celebrates the lives of its founders Geoff Booth and Annie Tan, who both passed away due to cancer.

The couple had invested wisely, spent modestly and with no children, left their life savings to be distributed on an ongoing basis to charities in need.

“Both Geoff and Annie Tan would be proud to support such a great cause,” Kinder continued.

Feel the Magic is an Australian non-profit who provide early intervention grief education programs for children aged 7 to 17 who have experienced the loss of a parent, guardian or sibling. 

Their free camps aim to help kids manage their grief through teaching practical coping strategies to grieve in a healthy and positive way; ultimately helping reduce the mental health challenges associated with childhood grief.

“Feel the Magic is only able to provide our free camps and resources thanks to amazing and generous donors such as the Geoff Booth Foundation,” Feel the Magic CEO Adam Blatch said.

“The donation will assist kids to Camp Magic so we can help them to face, feel and heal in their grief.

“We are extremely grateful for this amazing donation.”

Erebus Motorsport is thrilled to work alongside Feel the Magic and is grateful to the Geoff Booth Foundation for their generous contributions.

Image: Erebus Motorsport, Facebook, Mount Panorama Circuit Bathurst 10 October.

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.

Camp Magic Campers

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.