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Grieving Children and the Holidays

grieving child

Do you feel as though you may not be strong enough to support your grieving child this holiday season? I recently spoke to grieving parents. They believe that they don’t have the strengths needed to support their bereaved child. I believe they can spiritually nurture their child if they are brave; have a love of learning; are honest, hopeful; have gratitude; are spiritual; and show their love, as they talk with their child about their expectations for Thanksgiving, Christmas or Chanukah.

Although you struggle with your own feelings of grief and loss, this is the time to be brave and confront the difficult task of helping your grieving child. With a love of learning something new, this article will increase your awareness on how to help your child based on their understanding of death. For example, although children younger than three years of age have no understanding of the cause or finality of death, they do react to loss. Between the ages of three and five, children grasp the concept of separation, but not death. By seven, children recognize death, including the belief that there is continued life (e.g. loved one is in heaven) apart from the physical body, and are better able to verbally express feelings of loss. For the most part, by nine, children fully understand death.

Your child may be angry at God and question why God let the death happen. Prayer can be beneficial as you both ask similar questions that may never be answered. Be honest as you discuss changes in both of your lives. If your child feels punished by God or that God does not care, talk openly about it. By the same token, some children may no longer believe in miracles and feel hopeless. Help them through shared rituals based on your faith, belief system, and culture such as: lighting a candle; planting a flowering bush in their loved one’s memory; listening to music; making a collage; or creating a memory box (e.g. painted shoebox) to store keepsakes. Talk about your beliefs and any holiday traditions that they want changed. Compromise accordingly.

As a spiritually aware adult, ask your child questions, such as: Now that the holidays are here, what are three things you would have liked to tell the person who died? If you could have one item that belonged to your special person what would it be? and How has this holiday season changed since the death? With a focus on hope during the holidays, remain optimistic and have gratitude for what you do have in life.

All in all, your child may be struggling with comprehending what’s happening and attempting to make meaning out of it. As a loving role model, communicate about how your child is: honoring the deceased person’s wishes; understanding the circumstances of the loss; and continuing bonds and spiritual connection with the deceased. Dig deep down inside yourself and find the strengths that will make you resilient enough to spiritually nurture your grieving child.


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Barbara is a leading authority and best-selling author on managing burnout, secondary traumatic stress, compassion fatigue, and vicarious trauma. As a nationally recognized keynote speaker, she motivates audiences to build their resilience and create work-life balance. Her programs help leaders and teams manage workplace chronic stressors and get over burnout at work.

Barbara's newest book, "But I Didn't Say Goodbye: Helping Families After a Suicide", is available now on Amazon -

• Three weeks prior to giving birth to triplets, her father died by suicide. Her story was featured in the Emmy award winning documentary, Fatal Mistakes, Families Shattered by Suicide narrated by Mariette Hartley. Many employees are grieving personal loss. She offers programs for leaders on lost productivity and performance while managing grief at work.

• As a sought-after keynote speaker who has presented to over 500 groups since 1991, including corporations, state and national associations and non-profit organizations, Barbara offers work-life balance strategies for leaders to implement right away. With clarity and humor, her speaking engagements are designed to give audiences powerful and practical strategies of work-life balance, wellbeing, and self-care that can be implemented immediately.

• Barbara is a Board-Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress and Diplomate with the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. She received a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a Master of Arts degree in community health, with a concentration in thanatology, both from Brooklyn College.


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