Helping Children Grieve

Even very young children are aware of loss and have their own process of grieving based on their understanding. Because children look to their caregivers to learn how to process their losses, caregivers can inadvertently shut down a child’s ability to grieve when they assume the child does not know or is not reacting to the loss.

Children’s television and literature cover common topics of loss like changing schools, moving away from a friend, and losing a pet. With these kinds of losses, caregivers can leverage the child’s understanding of how their favorite characters went through their loss.

The most common temptation for caregivers is to help move the child through the process. Resist the urge to tell the child how much nicer it will be at the new school or that they will make more friends soon. Help the child learn how to be sad in appropriate ways, express their anger at the situation, and find ways to honor their loss.

The topic of death, particularly parent or sibling death, is not common in children’s media. Unless you purposefully seek out these books, you are not likely to find them at your local library or bookstore. Grandparent death is a more common topic, but again not always available on the shelves.

A key difference with parent or sibling death is that you as the caregiver are likely processing your own grief through the process. It’s very different from helping a child deal with their emotions through changing schools since you as the caregiver are not also changing schools.

Children need to know that it’s okay to express their grief with you, and they often want to know that the loss matters to you too. Younger children often want to tell the story of their loss over and over, and this can be an opportunity for you to craft a story together of what you have lost and how you are grieving together.

About Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are common. Learn about the three types of anxiety and the best ways to treat them in this introductory post.

Anxiety

Along with depression, anxiety disorders are the most prevalent of all mental health problems. The majority of people, sometimes estimated as high as 80%, will experience clinically significant anxiety during their lifetimes.

What Causes Anxiety?
There are a number of possible causes for anxiety. The three general categories are environmental, biological, and psychological. A serious anxiety disorder may involve one source or several. Different treatments will be more or less effective depending on the reason for your anxiety. Talking with a therapist about your anxiety can help you identify the reason for your anxiety and how it can be treated.

Environmental anxiety comes up when you are in a stressful situation. Outside stressors from your personal life, work, school, or home can result in clinically significant anxiety. When you deal with the stress, either by managing the situation or increasing your coping skills, the anxiety usually diminishes or goes away. Therapy can help you find ways to manage your environment to reduce stress. A therapist can also help you develop skills to increase your internal resilience to stressful situations that you can’t control and come up with things you can do to manage your feelings of anxiety in those situations.

Biological anxiety is caused by neurochemical imbalances in your brain that result in you feeling anxious even though there is no apparent reason for the feeling. These imbalances can happen for a number of reasons, and they can be treated by re-balancing your neurotransmitters through medication. There are several different kinds of medications that can be effective, and your doctor or psychiatrist can walk you
through your options. You may also benefit from therapy even with medication because when you experience anxiety, you can learn negative thought patterns that may continue even on medication.

Psychological anxiety is the result of your thought patterns. When you focus on anxiety-provoking thoughts, you begin to feel anxious. The feeling of anxiety reinforces the negative thought patterns which results in feeling even more anxiety. This kind of anxiety is treated best with therapy, though you may need medication to help break the cycle of negative thoughts before therapy is effective. Therapy can help you change the way you think to help you feel better.

Any questions about anxiety you want answered by a therapist? Leave a comment below or send a message and we may feature your question in a future post.

Childhood Friendships and Fights

Children’s friendships can be turbulent. Here’s a quick guide to how and when to intervene.

I get a lot of questions from parents of elementary aged children about what normal childhood friendships look like. Whether you see your child making bad friendships, getting bullied by friends, or consistently having fights with friends, it’s hard to know when and how to intervene as the parent.

Here are three strategies to avoid and three to employ:

Don’t:

  1. Tell your child to stop hanging out with a bully or bad friend. Why? If it was that easy, they’d do it already. There’s something about that particular person that keeps your child coming back. It is important to figure out why your child can’t get away from the bad relationship and address that as the core issue. Friends who bully are usually hot and cold- one day your child is this kid’s best friend and everything is great, then suddenly everything changes. It’s almost like gambling.
  2. Jump in immediately to fix the situation. Let your child come up with the ideas about what to do with a bad friend or a nasty fight. Use your judgment to help guide them toward effective, appropriate solutions, but the child should be in the driver’s seat when it comes to the solution. Why? Because you’re not going to be there at school or on the playground with your child. If they come up with the solution, they’re more likely to try it out.
  3. Ask the teacher to monitor the situation. Teachers have a job to do aside from reporting on individual students’ behavior. If something big happens that you need to know about, the teacher will probably tell you.

Do:

  1. Point out aspects of good and bad friendships whenever they come up. If your child shares a story about how Ron shared his sandwich with someone whose lunch fell in a puddle, make a big deal about how Ron was a good friend by showing kindness and sharing. And when your child tells you about how Sarah wouldn’t include Tiffany in tag at recess, it’s enough for you to comment that Sarah wasn’t being a good friend and how excluding people is unkind. You can also do this as you’re watching TV with your kids. It’s actually a bit easier with TV because the simple storylines almost always end with good outcomes for good behavior and negative consequences for bad behavior.
  2. Model good relationships. When you have a fight with your children, how do you repair the relationship? When Mom and Dad are mad, how do they treat each other? The way you act is what the child sees. If you have turbulent, dramatic relationships with your friends and spouse, your child is more likely to see that type of relationship as normal and even positive.
  3. Listen well. Without interrupting. Without offering your opinion. If your child feels truly heard, they’re more likely to talk to you. Playground drama doesn’t seem like critical information, but it opens the door for your child to express their thoughts and feelings. Listening without judgment shows your child that you can handle their difficult situations. And when you demonstrate that you can hear elementary problems without reacting, they’re more likely to confide in you as a teen.

Kids choose to stay with bad friends for a few reasons.

First is the helper personality. This child feels like it’s their duty to monitor and control the behavior of their classmates. If this is your child, work with them to understand boundaries. They need to know that there are things outside of their control and that they are not responsible for other kids’ behavior. They need to let go.

Second is the victim mentality. This child doesn’t think they deserve to have good friends, or perhaps they think that this is how real friends act. If this is your child, boost their sense of self-esteem and self-efficacy (no, this won’t spoil them). Some of these kids may not be able to find friends in their peer group because of their reputation as someone who can be easily bullied. It may help to get them involved in extracurricular activities with a different group of kids.

Third is the imitation factor. Even if you’re modeling healthy relationships, the media has a major influence on what kids (and adults) consider normal. If your child’s fights with friends seem like something out of daytime television, make sure you know what they’re watching, playing, and reading. You don’t have to get rid of the TV or the tablet, but make sure to have a conversation about how the characters in your favorite show are just characters. The things they do are funny and exaggerated, but they’re not real. Follow up with a discussion of how you (or another real person) would handle the situation.