(excerpts from the book Holiday Grief: How to Cope with Stress, Anxiety and Depression After a Loved One’s Death)

Since I’ve been involved in helping grieving children for most of my career, it is very important to me to help you learn about the needs of young people when the holidays and significant events come around during the year.

We may think that they don’t know what’s going on, but I’m here to tell you unequivocally, that they are very keenly aware of your suffering, your struggles both emotionally and perhaps financially, and your anxiety, stress and even depression.

They peek around the corner and see what’s going on.

You might think you can keep it from them, but you can’t.

You might think they don’t notice but they do.

You might think they don’t see you crying but they do.

And you might think they don’t feel things as severely as you do, but they do.




The only difference is you can put words to your grief; often times they cannot.

They don’t understand like you do. They don’t know how to communicate what’s going on inside like you do. They don’t know how to cope like you do.

So they need you to help them…every day.

They need you or someone you trust to be there for them, hold them, hug them, and describe what you are feeling so they know what they are feeling is natural and normal, too. They need to know that these feelings won’t be here forever; that they will become less severe in time.

They need to know that the one they love is not on a vacation but has died and is never coming back. They cannot be lied to, because they will find out and feel betrayed.

They will feel the same emotional struggles as you.

They will feel the same physical struggles as you. But for them it might be bedwetting, even if they’ve outgrown that for years. It might be clinging to you and be afraid of going to school or letting you out of their sight because they’re afraid they will lose you too. They may have trouble eating or sleeping, just like you.

It doesn’t matter who they have lost, whether it be a classmate, teammate or neighbor up the block because their pain is no less severe than if they are grieving someone in the family. Because pain is pain, grief is grief and it has more to do with the level of the relationship they had with that person than the title we give someone. Don’t dismiss their grief if it’s a non-family member.

When it comes to teenagers, they’re already living in a confused state trying to become independent and claiming their own identity. But when a death hits their home, it throws life into utter chaos.

They take on responsibilities in the household that perhaps their father or sibling once was responsible for and it’s a burden. They want to please you and so they overcompensate, but deep down they feel lost and need your comfort and direction, appreciation and gratitude for how much they help out.

They need to feel close to you even when it seems they might want to left alone. They need you to listen and be there for them.

Because when their grief is unaddressed, dismissed, and not validated, they will search for other places and people to find that comfort, most times the wrong people, drugs and alcohol, gangs and hobbies that will only bring more trouble to their lives and yours.

Take the time to be with them. Ask them what you can do to help.

Sometimes they need you to write to them, because it’s too hard for them to look at you and express their pain or see you expressing yours. Texting little loving notes of care and appreciation will go a long way to keeping the dialogue and your hearts open.

If they lost a brother or sister, make sure you remember that your surviving child is still alive. They are screaming for attention when all you might be doing is focusing on the child who has died.

Grieve together, not apart. Tell them how much they mean to you, how much you love them. How you understand they have their own identity and you don’t expect them to be their brother or sister.

Because deep inside they may be thinking that you’ll love them more if they took up basketball or cheerleading like their sibling did, when it’s totally not who they are. But they will do this to get your attention.

So at Christmas and the holiday season, it is imperative that you include them in the festivities and talk about what they would like to do and what plans they might like to continue or change. Don’t automatically do this for them. They will not be happy that you chose the plans without their input.

If that means no tree in the living room because it’s too difficult for you, the compromise might be a smaller tree in their room to decorate and honor their brother or sister or parent in the manner they choose. There is always a way to help family members commemorate their loved ones in a manner that suits them.

Please remember that children and teens grieve just as we do and if we want them to continue to grow up as emotionally and physically healthy young people we need to cultivate that at this most sensitive time in their lives.

Author's Bio: 

Mary M. McCambridge (www.MaryMac.info) is a Grief and Bereavement Specialist, Author, Private Executive Coach, Speaker, Publisher and creator of The Foundation for Grieving Children, Inc. (www.FoundationForGrievingChildren.org) who has assisted hurting families for nearly thirty years. Her book “Holiday Grief: How To Cope with Stress, Anxiety and Depression After a Loved One’s Death is available on Amazon Kindle as well as her award-winning book Understanding Your Grieving Heart After a Loved One’s Death. Partial proceeds of all her books support the Foundation for Grieving Children, Inc.