Father’s Day in lockdown: supporting grieving children and young people

For children and young people whose dad has died, Father’s Day can be a difficult time when their grief may be heightened and they are constantly reminded that their dad is no longer here.

Father’s Day marketing is inescapable and we are constantly reminded on television and social media that we need to say ‘thank you’ to our dad, buy them a card and a present and make sure they know how much we love them.

If a child goes to school, nursery or a group they will probably be asked to make their dad ‘something special’. At Winston’s Wish, children and young people often tell us that people either stop them taking part in these Father’s Day activities, causing increased isolation, or carry on as if nothing is different for them and ignoring that this time of year can be really difficult for bereaved children.

Father’s Day is also a day when some remaining parents who are fulfilling the role of mum and dad can get overlooked or they themselves are reminded that they are doing something they never planned for or wanted.

How has coronavirus affected Father’s Day?

The coronavirus pandemic has made this difficult time of year even more complicated for many families where dad has died. For some children and young people, social distancing and lockdown restrictions will stop them doing the rituals and plans that they do every Father’s Day. For others, some of whom have been bereaved by COVID-19, this is their first Father’s Day without their dad and they are unsure what would feel right for them to mark the day.

How can we support bereaved children and young people this Father’s Day?

Acknowledge that it is Father’s Day

One of the main things that children and young people tell us is that it is much easier for them if the important adults in their lives – parents, grandparents, teachers or adult friends – mention the fact that it is Father’s Day and that this might be a difficult time of year.

They are not likely to have missed the fact that Father’s Day is coming up and by talking about it with them we let them know that we are able and willing to talk about it and enable them to talk about it too.

During the pandemic, children and young people are telling us that their feelings have been amplified by the isolation that lockdown has caused. Some have become more hesitant to talk about difficult things as they have no escape from the situation if they want it to stop.

Ask your child what they want to do

At Winston’s Wish, we will always advocate for the child or young person’s voice to be heard and choices about Father’s Day are no different. Some will want to mark it publically, some will want to do something privately and some will want to pretend the day doesn’t exist.

Some children and young people will want to send gifts and cards to other important men in their lives while some will want to give gifts and cards to their remaining parent who is doing the job of both parents.

The most important thing is not to assume you know what they want to do. They might want to do the same as last year or they may want to do something completely different.

Listen to them

Listening to a child or young person is one of the most powerful ways you can support them. Father’s Day can trigger some really powerful feelings: feelings of anger and jealousy towards others who have their fathers and feelings of great sadness and loss as they are reminded that their dad has died. They may want to talk about this. Children and young people sometimes tell us things through their behaviour rather than words – they may become more withdrawn or short tempered, they may find separating from their remaining parent difficult.

By simply listening to what the child or young person is telling you, you are providing them with something really healing and powerful. You are telling them that their feeling are normal and they are not alone.

Adapt your Father’s Day plans for lockdown restrictions

In this time of social distancing and lockdown restrictions, knowing what to do on Father’s Day can be really difficult. So it’s time to get creative. With the help of your children you could come up with a list of what you would ideally like to do and then creatively think about what you could do instead. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Do you want to go to their favourite restaurant? You could try and recreate their favourite meal at home.
  • Do you want to release a balloon with a message? You could think about them as you blow bubbles.
  • Do you want to visit a place they liked? You could virtually visit it using Google Maps Street View.
  • Do you want to write them a card and put it on their grave? You could write a card and keep it in your memory box.
  • Do you want to spend the day with extended family? You could have a virtual get together and talk about him and share special memories.

Where to get support

The Winston’s Wish Freephone National Helpline is continuing to operate as normal. If you need advice on supporting a bereaved child or young person with Father’s Day you can call us on 08088 020 021 (9.00am-5.00pm, Monday-Friday), email us on ask@winstonswish.org or use our online chat.

Our Winston’s Wish Crisis Messenger is available 24/7 for urgent support in a crisis. Text WW to 85258.

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