How to help grieving children at Christmas

We spoke to counsellor, Zoe Mcpherson for her tips on how to navigate the festive season after losing a loved one.

Christmas can be a difficult time for many people; the cost, the stress, the high expectations, and the early ambush of Christmas fanfare attacking our senses. TV, radio, social media and every shop and supermarket guilting us with treats and delights that will make this Christmas perfect.

Worse still, can be those intrusive thoughts that are often hard to distract from; thoughts of happy families sitting around a twinkling tree, opening a mountain of impeccably chosen and wrapped gifts. A family eating a cooked-to-perfection turkey, sat around a table heaving with festive treats.

These are the dreams of families where a loved one has not died.

Imagine the impact of Christmas on someone whose mum, dad, wife, husband or child has died. There will be no apology for the harshness of that statement. Death is part of life, a horrible and painful part, but still, a part. And, Christmas can become a thing of true dread.

Few other, if any, holidays succeed in conjuring up the sheer panic people can feel at this time of year, due to the festive season being so heavily associated with ‘happy families’.

For bereaved children, Christmas may be a confusing time; they will be coping with their own grief, as well as trying to understand yours. They will often still feel some childlike excitement about the season, which can lead to feelings of guilt and shame.

For bereaved parents, it can be hard to know exactly how to help their child to cope.

Here are some tips that you may find useful:

  1. Talk to your child about the person who died; many families shy away from this as they ‘don’t want to upset the other person’. However, talking openly and honestly will help you understand what is going on with your child and vice versa.
  2. Help them to understand that all feelings are valid; there is no right or wrong way to grieve and it’s important that children know they can express themselves without fear of reprimand.
  3. Decide as a family how you want to mark Christmas; this might be a starting a new tradition, or it might be deciding to keep traditions the same.
  4. Do something specific for your loved one; this might be lighting a candle or choosing a special Christmas tree ornament in their memory.

Finally, feeling nostalgic or sad is part of life after a death. But it’s important to remember that you will eventually enjoy Christmas again. Hold on to that hope and never be afraid to ask for help.

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Written by Ellen Lees
Head of Content.
Written by Ellen Lees
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