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.

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.  

Darren McMullen Feel the Magic Ambassador

Ambassador and celebrity boardroom challenger

If you’ve been following us on socials, you would have seen our newest Ambassador Darren McMullen challenging it out on Celebrity Apprentice Australia. Darren is not only a proud Ambassador but selected Feel the Magic has his charity of choice for the battle in the boardroom.

As a proud mental health advocate, Darren noticed the link between mental health issues, suicide, and grief.

Darren shared: “I’ve lost friends through suicide and mental health issues. And when I looked back, I realised – a lot of these friends had lost a parent when they were young.”

That’s why he’s so passionate about Feel the Magic and our programs. He believes that through early intervention and grief education, we can help kids and families learn to live with their grief in healthy ways and avoid serious mental health issues later on in life.

That’s why he has been playing the boardroom game in Celebrity Apprentice, and he’s doing just fine!

Record breaking win

On the very first premiere episode for this season, Darren, Benji Marshall (thank you for your huge contribution, Benji), and teammates not only won the opening challenge, but raised the most amount money ever on Celebrity Apprentice. This was an amazing and massive effort and will help so many more grieving children and their families. This win means Feel the Magic can offer them more free camps, resources, and support.

Giving back and second chances

Darren generously gave Turia Pitt back her hard-earned winnings on episode two. From Feel the Magic CEO Adam Blatch “We are so proud to have Darren McMullen as Ambassador at Feel the Magic. The generosity in not accepting Turia Pitt winnings for her charity Interplast Australia & New Zealand on Celebrity Apprentice Australia reflects the values that Feel the Magic holds. The amazing contribution by Darren and his team will support many more grieving children and families around Australia. Darren is helping us get the word out about the 1 in 20 Australian kids grieving the death of a parent and the support we can offer them. We are very grateful for all his time and energy”.

Then on episode eight, Darren had a second chance at the winnings as Project Manager. But he and Team Innovate were unlucky to be outdone by their opponents.

Above all these efforts, Darren has been proudly promoting Feel the Magic – on television, social media, and radio – even during a Nova 969 rap battle against Wippa. Our Instagram polling tells us that Darren out did Wippa hands down!

Darren has half the season to go, and we can’t wait to watch the battles ahead.

Celebrity Apprentice style golf day

Outside of the boardroom, Darren and Benji will be joining Feel the Magic for this year’s annual charity golf day at Concord Golf course.

Would you like to play a round of golf, meet our Ambassador, raise money, and help more grieving kids heal? Then come along and experience a Celebrity Apprentice style Golf Day.

Play as a team, buy individual player tickets, or bring along extra guests to a fantastic lunch. Click through for more information.

We can’t thank Darren enough for all his efforts, commitment, and shout outs. The more we can spread the word about Feel the Magic, the more grieving kids we can help heal.  No Australian child should feel alone in their grief.

First of a kind Let's Talk Suicide

Mental Health Minister backs ‘Let’s Talk Suicide’ camp

First of a kind ‘Let’s Talk Suicide’ camps

Thanks to vital support from the NSW Government and Minister for Mental Health, Regional Health and Women, Bronnie Taylor, Feel the Magic can help more children grieving the suicide of their parent or sibling.

Let’s Talk Suicide camps, a first of their kind in Australia, are offered to kids aged seven to 17 who are grieving the suicide of a loved one.

The Feel the Magic ‘Let’s Talk Suicide’ camps, a first of their kind in Australia, are offered to kids aged seven to 17 who are grieving the suicide of a loved one. These camps give grieving kids the mental tools and coping skills to help manage their grief, as well as a community to lean on.

Supporting children and families affected by suicide

Feel the Magic Chief Executive Officer, Adam Blatch said “Sadly, suicide claims the life of many parents every year, leaving behind heartbroken and devastated partners, children, and grandparents. The Let’s Talk Suicide program provide a safe space for children to learn new skills to manage their grief and talk through their pain and loneliness with people who truly understand. It is also a vital support to parents and carers who must juggle their own grief.”

Suicide is the leading cause of death for individuals aged 15 to 49 years old in Australia (Australian Government, Department of Health), with many of these instances resulting in a child having to mourn the loss of a parent or sibling.  Read more about the prevalence of childhood bereavement here.

With the support of the NSW Government, Feel the Magic can offer this critical Let’s Talk Suicide program to more grieving children.

The suicide bereavement program is funded by the NSW Government and Minister for Mental Health Bronnie Taylor encourages affected parents and carers to enrol their children and teens. “I cannot imagine the enormous, heart-breaking task of explaining to your child why a parent or sibling felt their only option was to take their own life,” Minister Taylor said. “We want these parents and carers to know that they are not alone and there is a community of people who understand their pain and grief and will support them as they work through it as a family.”

An impactful collaboration

Let’s Talk Suicide has been created as a collaboration to ensure that the program is as impactful as possible. Partners include the NSW Ministry of Health who support this program as part of their ‘Towards Zero Suicides’ initiative, The Illawarra Shoalhaven Suicide Prevention Collaborative, Roses in the Ocean, and the University of Melbourne.

First in-person ‘Let’s Talk Suicide’ camp

Initially a virtual Zoom-based program, the first in-person ‘Let’s Talk Suicide’ (LTS) camp took place at Stanwell Tops on the 15 May for children aged seven to 17 years of age. “Now with in-person camps, kids can build a connection with others facing grief and experience the benefits of the program, face to face.” Said Mr Blatch.

Helping children deal with loss

Created specifically for kids who are grieving the suicide of a loved one, LTS teaches bereaved children how to heal from the guilt, shame and blame that often comes with suicidal grief.

The program is developed in collaboration with clinical psychologists, the NSW Ministry of Health, leading suicide support organisations, and those with a lived experience.

At the LTS camps, kids will learn the skills, tools, and coping mechanisms to help them deal with grief, even when they’re in triggering situations. They have a safe place to explore their grief and heal, with other children who can relate to them like no one else.

Find out more here, register your interest, or contact 1300 602 465.

Crisis support

Please note we do not offer crisis services. If you require urgent assistance, to ensure your safety, please go to your nearest hospital’s accident and emergency department or if you’re in need of immediate emotional support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Grief Line on 1300 845 745. Please take care.