Grief is a natural response to loss and can be an extremely challenging experience, especially on significant days like Mother’s Day.
Mother’s Day and Grief
Mother’s Day can be a difficult day for children and teens who have experienced the death of their mum, or other maternal figure in their life like a step-mum, auntie or grandmother. It can be a time when grief is brought to the surface, emotions are heightened and may be a confronting reminder that their loved one is no longer here.
Despite the sadness and challenges that a day like Mother’s Day can bring, many grieving children can also experience ‘post-traumatic growth’ leading them to experience full and rich lives after the loss and tragedy and allowing them to grow with their grief in new ways.
Growing With Grief
Post-traumatic growth refers to the positive psychological changes people can experience following a struggle through a life-altering or traumatic experience. Although post-traumatic growth might occur following the death of a loved one, this does not mean it minimises the pain, suffering, and impact of such a significant loss.
While it is true that not everyone will experience post-traumatic growth after a loss or other negative event, it is a possibility for many, especially when they receive appropriate support and intervention.
Post-traumatic growth does not mean that the grieving process is easy or that the loss is any less painful. It simply means that there is the potential for growth following a difficult experience.
Feel the Magic Camper Emily lost her mum when she was just eight years old.
In a moving letter to her late mum Susan, Emily shared how she has taught her nanna and cousins her mum’s sausage roll recipe, listens to her mum’s favourite songs and has found a song that symbolises her mum in hers and her dad’s eyes.
Emily is at high school learning new things and meeting new people. She is now old enough to ride with her dad on the back of the Harley Davidson to visit her mum at the cemetery.
Emily can smile again. Emily said:
“There’s just something that people need, and I think Camp Magic is probably one of them. You get a lot of people just being around you. You know that they have been through the same thing as you and you feel just really comforted by that. It’s taught me that nothing is too far out of reach, you just got to do it and just reach for your dreams, honestly. I’m very proud of myself”.
Emily’s dad Geoff said:
“It really helps me to know that she is in the best hands. They are able to reassure you that things will get better. She has done extremely well, the way she has coped, the way she has used the tools that Feel the Magic have given her is just absolutely fantastic”.
Some of the ways that people may experience post-traumatic growth after the loss of a family member include:
- Deeper relationships: Loss can bring people closer together, as they support each other through the grieving process. This can result in deeper and more meaningful relationships, especially as they grow older.
- Increased sense of purpose: Some people find that going through a difficult experience such as grief helps them to clarify their priorities and find a greater sense of purpose in life. For some people, this may also lead to changes in study or work to better align with their values and goals.
- Greater resilience: Going through the process of grieving can be incredibly difficult, but it can also help people develop resilience, coping skills, and self-soothing strategies that can be useful in other areas of life or during subsequent challenging times.
- Increased gratitude and appreciation: When someone experiences a significant loss, they may develop a greater appreciation for the time they have with loved ones and for the beauty of life in general.
It is important to not jump into the possibility of growth immediately following the death of a loved one. However, helping grieving children and adolescents to develop post-traumatic growth can make a significant difference to their futures.
How to support a bereaved child and encourage growth with grief
Implementing these suggestions could help encourage growth and positive outcomes in bereaved children:
- Social support – Fostering an environment of social support for bereaved children and adolescents is recommended to promote post-traumatic growth after traumatic life events. This may include having trusted adults to talk to about big emotions or having positive social friendships with peers.
- Resiliency skills – Adults can be instrumental in helping children develop post-traumatic growth by teaching resiliency skills such as teaching positive emotional regulation skills, helping children name emotions and develop their emotional literacy, modelling help-seeking behaviours, and helping them identify their triggers and early warning signs of distress.
- Early Intervention – Early interventions are often helpful for addressing trauma symptoms in children, and professional support may be required for some people. Helping a child process and make sense of a loss might help reduce feelings of excessive guilt, assist life transitions, and help them make new meaning of their world.
- Offering praise and hope – When your child makes a positive coping statement or demonstrates self-soothing behaviour, it is a good idea to offer them praise and recognition for these healthy choices. It is also recommended to speak of the future and make plans. This can help counteract the common feeling among children that have experienced a traumatic event that the future is scary, bleak and unpredictable.
- Parent/guardian self-care – it is important to take care of yourself and manage your own distress too. The use of self-regulation skills and self-care activities and seeking support is modelling an effective way to respond to trauma for your child. By taking care of your own emotional health and well-being, you’ll be better able to help your child.
If you are looking for tips to support a grieving child on Mother’s Day, read our blog: Remembering Mum and Coping with Grief on Mother’s Day.