How to Comfort a Child on Father's Day After a Father's Death
I spent several years as a grief counselor for children and teens at a hospice. I worked directly with families who were anticipating the death of a loved one, as well as support their grief process for years afterwards.
On father's day we would have a workshop for the children and teens who were grieving the death of their father. It was open to the community. Men volunteered and helped the children build a wooden kit making a bird house or the like. After the children completed their project they would light a candle for their father's and we will openly and compassionate allow them to talk.
Giving the children something to do on father's day helped with the feelings of being helpless in their grief.
Opportunities to Remember
It is important children and teens be allowed to talk about and have opportunities to honor the death of their father. While not talking may seem to offer protection and keep sad feelings away, it only masks what is really happening. Not talking about grief does not mean children are not actively hurting and grieving.
Through commemorating a child has the ability to express their grief appropriately. Children need to talk about the death of their father as they would with anything else that is bothering them.
By being a part of remembrance activities children learn that they are important members of the family and their grief process is a normal reaction to a significant loss like a father.
Father's day is a day to honor fathers. This is true for all father's alive or deceased. On father's day children get to can honor, reflect and remember their deceased father just the same as those children who honor their alive father's.
Children, teens and adults have many similar feelings when a family member dies. However, the method of expressing the feelings maybe be different. Feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger, fear, hopelessness and helplessness can be verbalized by adults. While children may tend to act out the feelings behaviorally and some teens may draw inward. It is also common for children and teens to experience physical symptoms as a result of keeping their feelings and concerns inside.
Symptoms may include head and stomach aches and changes in appetite and sleep patterns.
It is normal for these feelings and symptoms to resurface around holidays like Father's day.
Special occasions bring grief feelings back. Children and teens like adults re-grieve during holidays, birthdays and the time of year when the death occurred. This is normal and predictable part of the grief process for every family member and the occasions can provide healthy opportunities for you and your child to express thoughts, memories and feelings.
A loved one can help the child identify the feelings by saying, "I wonder if your stomach keeps hurting because you miss your daddy. I miss him too." Children and teens need to know adults also share their feelings. It helps normalize the process they are going through. "I feel that way too sometimes," can be very affirming to a child and can go a long way towards reducing feelings of isolation.
Ideas To Remember on Father's Day
- Make a Memory Book
- Make a Memory Box
- Plant a tree
- Write a letter
- Bring flowers, balloons, teddy bears to the grave
- Go to the father's favorite restaurant
- Light a candle next to their picture
- Tell a funny story about their father
- Write a letter to your father and tie it to a balloon or burn it as a way to symbolically send it
- Visit a place where their father enjoyed
- Ask the child what they would like to do
- Go to a church service
- Draw a picture of you and your dad doing something together
- Make a photo collage video
- Interview family members asking what is their favorite memory, make a video
- Make the father's favorite meal together
Katie Couric and Elmo Talking about Grief and Loss
I highly recommend this book.
Understanding Children's Grief
- No two children grieve alike.
- Grief is a sensory experience for young children who often do not have the words to express their grief.
- Children grieve in spurts, grieving in doses is healthy for a child, they can quickly change from being sad, angry to wanting to play, follow their lead.
- Throughout the child's development the loss may resurface so it can be understood and integrated in new ways.
- It is not until about the age of 7 do children understand the permanence of a loss.
- Children may blame themselves for the death, thinking they could have done something to prevent the loss. Children may lack the ability to correct faulty thinking and may not every say words to let you know they are feeling this way. Let the child know they did nothting wrong and it was not their fault.
- Regular activities and home rules help reassure children.
- Recognize and support a child's need for both solitued and support.