Originally published May 2010.
When a Mother or Father dies the subject of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day often becomes a taboo. Teachers and other school professionals may feel conflicted about having classroom activities focusing on the holiday.
Bereaved children feel that they no longer have a Mom or Dad because they died. It is important to validate the child’s feeling, but at the same time gently remind them that they will ALWAYS have a Mom or Dad even if they have died.
Overall, schools can have activities that focus more on the role of Mothers and Fathers than on the actual person. Children may not have a biological mother or father in their life (for a variety of reasons, death being only one), but someone else that fits that role. So if the activity focuses on the “role” rather than the person, you will help the child identify positive role models in their life.
For younger children, activities in which they can draw or write about their favorite activities or memories are often useful. For children that have experienced a loss, it can help them feel connected to their loved one, as well as document precious memories that may become less vivid in later years. Younger children also love animals, so any activity in which you have them identify “parent” and “kid” animals can be fun and educational. The activity can focus on how animals take care of their babies.
Middle school children also may be interested in some of the activities mentioned above. They can be modified to include more details and levels of discussion.
Older children may or may not be into doing any “activities.” I would recommend that discussions or projects focus on the “role” of the parent rather than a specific individual. Teens can identify what traits of their mother or father role model they have, would like to develop, and even want to change.
For families unsure of how to handle the day, any of the above activities or discussions can take place in the home. It will be helpful to talk with your child(ren) to involve them in the process of deciding how to recognize the day.
Children will often not talk to their family about these things because they are afraid of upsetting others, and even themselves. It may be helpful to realize that each year (especially as the child(ren) grows up), the topic should be revisited as how they want to, or even if they want to, celebrate the day. Their thoughts and feelings around these special days are likely to change with time, as should traditions.