Is Your Child Or Teen Struggling With Grief And Loss?
Has your family recently received heartbreaking news? Perhaps someone close to you has fallen ill or passed away. Whatever the case, your child(ren) may be struggling to adjust to or even accept this change.
Maybe your family is going through what is typically considered a positive life change, such as moving to a new home or city or welcoming a new baby. In the midst of this shift, you might be noticing signs of anxiety or depression in your children, such as sadness, anger, worrying, longing for the past and more.
If you have younger children, they may be struggling with seemingly minor things, such as losing a toy or growing out of their favorite shoes. Or, perhaps they are mourning after a devastating experience, such as losing a parent. Young children often can’t comprehend loss and change, and they respond to the stress and absence in acute ways. Your child may be acting out instead of talking about their emotions, leading to conflict at home and at school. You may have also noticed your child trying to process their grief through repetitive play, setting up the same scene and characters over and over.
Teens may understand the finality and permanence of loss, but struggle to cope with overwhelming grief. Your teen may want to talk about what happened repetitively, or they may not want to broach the subject at all. They may act out by engaging in harmful behaviors, such as driving recklessly, hanging with a new crowd or using drugs or alcohol. It’s also common for teens to withdraw socially or appear unmotivated. Things that used to interest them may not anymore. They may become overly sensitive to confrontation and stressors.
Regardless of your child’s age, grief can stir up a variety of confusing emotions that can impact sleeping patterns, eating habits, concentration, reasoning and school performance. You may notice your child becoming increasingly clingy, or cold and distant. Or, perhaps it seems that your child is acting much older or younger than their age.
It is common for children and adults to develop unhealthy cognitive distortions, or faulty thinking patterns, in response to grief. For example, many people report feeling they will never be able to be happy again following a loss, or that feeling brief moments of happiness now trigger intense guilt.
As the parent, you may be grieving too. As you try to hold everything together and help your family heal, you may realize you need support. Are you looking for a safe way to help your child grieve, learn effective coping skills and find some clarity and meaning around this loss?
Grief Is A Roller Coaster Of Emotion
Growing up is a time of ongoing change. At some point, all kids, teens and adults experience loss. Major life changes, such a move, losing a loved one, breakup and more can stir up heavy emotions. Even changing schools or falling out with friends can bring on new feelings and challenges.
When grief hits, it’s like a roller coaster, with ups and downs that are unpredictable. The stages of grief are not linear, meaning even when someone is feeling better, they can suddenly be blindsided by something—a song or smell, for example—that triggers a grief reaction.
With grief, something that was once joyous can become very somber. Holidays, family traditions and places can take on new connotations. These changes can be very difficult to express to others, especially since grief is so minimized in our culture. When tragedy hits, we’re expected to get over it and move on.
But that’s not how grief works. In truth, everyone grieves differently and at their own pace. No matter how big or small the loss, you want to comfort your child and help them process this pain.
Grief and loss counseling can provide your child with a safe space to express their emotions, without pressure or judgment. With help, they can learn effective coping tools that help them move through the world with greater peace and calm.
Grief And Loss Counseling Can Help Your Child Process Pain
Youth therapy provides a safe space for your child to express strong emotions and learn strategies to calm their nervous system down, leading to physical relief.
Although approaching pain may seem frightening, the best way to deal with grief is actually to lean in. Part of grief therapy is allowing kids and teens to grieve at their own pace. Sitting with their emotions honestly, without resistance, can be profoundly healing.
We will gently explore any unhelpful thinking patterns that commonly arise in response to grief. Challenging these thoughts early will prevent them from becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. Learning to observe and alter our thinking is a life skill that will serve your child or teen both now and in the future.
In addition to helping children grieve, counseling can help you, the parent, understand appropriate grief responses for your child’s developmental level. For example, it’s not uncommon for children to speak about death plainly, as a matter of fact. I can also help you watch for other stress responses, such as the symptoms of PTSD, and understand what to do if you notice those signs. This insight can lead us toward individualized solutions that are effective for your child and family.
As an experienced child therapist, I can provide your child or teen with age appropriate techniques that help them process pain, specifically tailored to their unique experience of grief. My approach is very gentle and compassionate, meaning I meet kids where they’re at and work at a pace that feels comfortable for them. Younger kids tend to thrive with play therapy, while older kids may need cognitive-behavioral therapy in addition to other stress reduction exercises, such as mindfulness, guided meditation, progressive muscle relaxation or coaching on healthy self-care practices. No matter what stage of life or grief your child is in, your child can walk away with insight into the loss and ways to manage overwhelming stress.
With nine years of experience as a school psychologist, I know how impactful loss can be. From all of my experience, I know that healing is possible. You and your child can not only survive this trying time, but also come out on the other side and thrive.
You may still have questions or concerns about grief and loss counseling…
With what’s happened, we’re barely staying afloat. How will we make time for therapy?
As the parent, if you’re struggling to function and process what happened, so are your children.
As we learn during the safety presentation on airplanes, you have to put on your breathing mask before you can help others. If you need support, I am happy to make a referral to a trusted professional counselor who works with grieving adults.
As a child therapist, I can put on your child’s breathing mask if you’re not able to. I can also provide you with education about how grief shows up in kids or teens, offering skills that allow them to feel better. Making time for therapy can improve your child’s ability to concentrate, function and form and maintain healthy relationships as they move into the next stage of their life.
Will my child need to take medication?
While I do not prescribe medication, we can discuss whether or not your child’s symptoms warrant a medical consult, and if so, I can provide a trusted referral.
Oftentimes, grief can be treated without the use of medication. There are also several holistic and natural interventions we can explore.
Medication is often a temporary solution to help your child engage more fully with the therapeutic process. I understand that the choice to take medication is a personal decision, and I will respect whatever choice you make.
My child believes therapy will make them sadder.
With grief, it’s really important that you encourage your child to express and release emotions. Keeping feelings of grief inside can lead to physical stress responses, such as sleeping issues, stomach problems, headaches, brain fog and more.
Therapy can address and mitigate these responses. Therapy can also equip your child or teen with the skills to move more confidently through the world.
If your child is resistant to therapy, I encourage you to call me to discuss strategies that warm them up to the idea of support. I am here to help them feel safe.