Three ways to build support and empathy in your family

Three things you can do with your children to help you all support each other after a bereavement, by Karen Holford of the Association of Family Therapy.

  1. Create a comfort menu

Ask the members of your household what they want when they want to feel comforted. Make a list of what they say – this is the comfort menu. Stick the menu to the fridge or somewhere that it will regularly be seen by everyone in the house. Allocate each person in the house a fridge magnet, or equivalent. When someone wants to be comforted, they put their magnet next to what they want and the other members of the household provide that thing for them.


It can be quite specific, like having a cup of hot chocolate made in a special way, or simply to be left alone to listen to music. The point is to understand that we all need different forms of comfort and we all share the responsibility of responding to each other’s needs.


  1. Draw a feelings pie

This is like a pie chart but with a crust. Draw a circle and then divide the circle to show how much you feel happy, sad, and other feelings. Draw another circle to represent the crust of the pie. On this, draw what feelings you’re showing to the outside world.


This lets us acknowledge that we can feel lots of different, even contradictory feelings at once and helps along a conversation about what we feel we can and can’t show others and why.


  1. Dad time (or mum time if their mum died)

Some families schedule a time, each week, when they can talk about, honour and be sad about the person that has died. They can be happy during this time too and also think about their parent at other times too but a schedule allows children – and adults – to not feel guilty for being happy and doing enjoyable things after someone has died.


You can decide each week whether you want to do something together or go off and do your own things. When talking together, you can acknowledge the good and bad points of the death. Let children know that if they feel a tiny bit glad to have more access to the tv remote control, it doesn’t mean they love or grieve for their parent any less.


Regularly checking in with each other, specifically on how you all feel about the loss, helps you keep aware of your own feelings and those of the people around you.




Karen has a Pinterest board on loss and bereavement resources here:


Image: iStock/Cathy Yeulet

First published in Issue 9 Widows & Widowers magazine

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