Grief is an ongoing journey for bereaved children, so the issues raised by occasions such as Father’s Day may be relevant for many years after a death. The most important thing is to always give children a choice.
Every child is different; some may like to share stories, photos and memories on the day. Some may like to listen to his favourite music or do some arts & crafts or a memory box of things that remind them of their Dad. Some children may want to be very private about their feeling on this day and may just need kind reassurance that whatever they choose is okay.
Children may not want to talk because they are afraid of upsetting everyone around them, or as they grow they may not want to mark the day as they used to. It can be hard for families to understand when children choose to break with traditions, but it’s normal as children grow that their feelings change around these special days.
What you might say to support a bereaved child on Father’s Day
“There is no right or wrong way to remember your Dad on days like this, just do what feels right for you at the time – each year may be different as your circumstances change.”
“Some people like to mark the day very privately through some quiet thoughts or going somewhere that they feel particularly close to their Dad. Others may want to mark the occasion with others who knew and loved him.”
“If you want to talk to someone, reach out. Accept the kindness of others – your friends and family are there to support you.”
Teachers can help too!
Making a Father’s Day card in class can be an enjoyable activity for many children – and it may be for some children grieving a father’s death – but it does require a very sensitive approach. If you are thinking about doing an activity to celebrate Father’s Day, have a quiet word with a bereaved child and their parent or guardian to let them know what will be happening. Doing this about a week beforehand will give them some time to think. Invite them to decide if they would like to be part of the class activity or not. If they do not wish to participate, respect their decision and perhaps offer them an alternate enjoyable activity. Siblings in the same class may make different choices.
If a child decides to participate, it is generally helpful not to focus too much on them, they will already be feeling different from their peers and will not welcome too much extra attention. Be mindful for a child who may become upset while doing this activity, a kind and gentle response will normally help the child with the emotion that has come to the surface.