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The Powerful Impact of Teaching Children How to Deal With Grief

They say that it takes a village to raise a child. Parents, extended family members, family friends, neighbours, caregivers, teachers, and many others, influence a child’s overall social, emotional, and psychological growth.

As a community, it is our responsibility to teach our children effective life skills that will benefit them over their lifetime. When it comes to the inevitable losses that a child will experience, it too is our responsibility to teach them how to effectively heal and move forward.

Sadly, we haven’t been taught how to deal with loss when it happens. As adults we struggle with our own emotional reactions to loss and so naturally, we struggle with addressing the painful emotions of our children. Very often we end up teaching our children the information we were taught. We may repeat things like, “Don’t feel bad, you’ll make new friends”, or “Don’t cry, everything will be okay”, or “It’s okay, we will get you a new [dog, cat, bike]”.

Every child has the capacity and natural ability to work through their grief, regardless of their genetics, gender, and ethnic, cultural, or religious background. We are all born with a natural tendency to feel and express our emotions when we have them.

According to The Alberta Family Wellness Initiative, lifelong skills and emotional health is a result of more than just genetic make-up. Early childhood intervention, education, and experiences, all shape the brain pathways and architecture and how well a child manages stress and any life challenges they may face.

The more equipped we are to deal with our painful emotions, the more equipped we will feel to teach our children these very tools. Teaching our children how to identify emotions, acknowledge emotions, and express emotions has a significant impact on their emotional intelligence over time. It teaches them how to recognize and address their emotions in a healthy and healing manner, rather than avoid, deny, or push down the feelings using substances or distractions. Additionally, it creates safe and trusting relationships, so that when they do experience a loss, they will feel courageous enough to share their experience with us.

The Alberta Family Wellness Initiative also explains that creating a safe, trustworthy relationship with our children peer will boost positive neurological connections and will decrease their risk of participating in harmful behaviors and choices.

Here are some effective strategies we can teach our children that grief is a normal and natural reaction to loss of any kind.

1. Monkey See, Monkey Do. I am sure most of us can recall accidentally saying a “bad word” in front of a child and having them repeat the word back to you. We instantly regret what we have said and hope it is not repeated again. On a positive note, what children “see” as sadness, will most likely be what they “do”. Showing your children that sadness is normal and natural is best shown through real life examples. As an adult, if you have feelings of sadness, it is okay for children to see this experience you are going through. Children are also curious and may ask you “what’s wrong?”. It is also very healthy to explain in an appropriate manner, what is causing your sadness. This demonstrates to our children that sadness is a normal human experience. If you make the decision to push sadness to the side, it teaches your child that whenever someone feels sad, they should stop feeling that way, and brush it off.

2. Avoid Saying “Don’t Feel Bad” or “Don’t Cry”. Let’s say it was Billy’s first time at the dentist. He tells his mom that he is scared and does not want to go. Mom then tells Billy he needs to go to the dentist in order to have healthy teeth. Billy agrees, but becomes scared of the unfamiliar environment and starts to cry in the operatory. Mom then tells him, “Don’t cry, everyone can hear you”. Billy learns very quickly that his sad feelings cannot be expressed or shared with others. Additionally, it is unintentionally communicated that his feelings are now a burden to others. An alternative comment to help Bill could be, “I know this is a scary time, and I am here for you.” or “It is okay that you are feeling scared, I will help you through this.” As adults, it is important that we acknowledge how our children are feeling and validate their emotional vulnerability.

3. Importance of Emotional Availability. It is okay as an adult, not to have the answers to everything. Thankfully, when it comes to loss we do not need to intellectualize or have “the right answers” in order to heal hearts. Being emotionally available to the child, means listening to them like a “heart with ears,” and with no judgment, analysis or criticism. Sometimes, the most effective way of helping children through loss is not all the “smart” comments you can say, but rather being emotionally present and listening with your heart. When we are emotionally available, it teaches the child that they have a safe place to express how they are feeling. If you don’t know what to say, it is okay to say that to them, and then offer them a hug. As adults, we can appreciate how painful it feels when our family or friends say things that may be intellectually true, but don’t appeal to our broken heart. It is the same thing for our children.

If while reading this article you became aware of one or more losses that have impacted your life and you are struggling to move forward, we have the tools to help you move beyond the pain. Contact us today for your free telephone consultation or to book an appointment.

 

This article was written by Gina Baretta, Psychology Intern and Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®, and edited by Ashley Mielke, Owner and Director of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs. 

Reference: http://www.albertafamilywellness.org/what-we-know/the-brain-story

Photo credit: shutterstock

The Power of Responsibility in Healing From Loss

When we experience loss in our lives, we often feel immense emotional pain. Sometimes the pain is so profound that it leaves us feeling paralyzed and hopeless about the future. It’s as if we are stuck in an emotional prison, unable to escape and incapable of imagining a life without suffering. Over time and without new action, our prison can become so familiar that we begin to believe that we are powerless over our emotions, our lives, and our circumstances in life.

The good news is, we do have control. As challenging and painful as it can be to take ownership of our lives (especially our pain), we do have the capacity to own our emotions, own our stories, and decide what we are going to do with the emotional pain we are carrying. This ownership is the first step on our path to healing and recovery.

The Grief Recovery Method® emphasizes the need for us to take at least 1% responsibility for our reaction in the present moment. That 1% represents the small part of us that feels hopeful about feeling better and our willingness to take new action to heal from our pain. If we don’t accept at least 1% responsibility for our emotions, we get to stay in prison.

Action is the antidote to fear. In order to experience true emotional healing and fulfillment in our lives, we must be willing to push through our fears and the familiarity of our pain and take new action to move forward.

Even if recovery is what we deeply desire in our hearts, our fear can have a powerful grip on us in the present moment. It is often our fear that stops us in our tracks and limits us from taking emotional risks in life. Richard O’Connor, the author of Rewire, states that “fear of success is a euphemistic stand-in for deeper fears that are the real motivation for handicapping ourselves – fear of freedom, happiness, intimacy and responsibility.”

Aren’t we all willing to do whatever it takes to feel happy in life? Then why is this so challenging for us?

Well, it is in our human nature to seek what is familiar, even if it is not comfortable. Over time and without new action, our pain becomes familiar to us. Yes. We develop a fierce relationship to our pain and sometimes even defend it. We don’t like to give up what belongs to us, right? This familiarity, stacked on top of fear, is a powerful barrier to feeling better and recovering from loss.

Having experienced the painful deaths of our dads, as well as other losses, we deeply appreciate how scary and uncertain life feels after loss. It’s like you see your life path diverging in front of you, and you know you have to make a massive decision about which path you choose to walk. The decision we make at this crossroad of our lives is critical in our healing.

Making the choice to walk onto a new path can feel very scary, intimidating, and uncomfortable. It compels us to take new ownership for our lives and the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what we are capable of achieving. Walking the path we know may seem easier in the moment, simply because it is familiar. It doesn’t necessarily mean it will offer us what we truly need to move beyond the pain.

Are you at a crossroads in your life? What path will you choose? We encourage you to choose the path that will offer you the tools and resources to live a life of happiness, fulfillment, and emotional completion.

“After my dad died, I was shown that life can be taken from us in the snap of a finger. After grieving his death I learned a valuable lesson; that I have a choice. I said to myself, “I can either throw a pity party for the rest of my life, or continue living the life that I want.” I quickly learned that no matter what life challenges I face, I have control over my life and how I choose to live it.” – Gina Baretta

The Grief Recovery Method Program® is a beautiful, heart-centred program that we specialize in at The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. It provides you with the tangible tools to complete the pain caused by your loss and live a life of meaning and purpose. Click here to book an appointment with us today.

This article was written by Gina Baretta, Psychology Intern and Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®, and Ashley Mielke, Owner, Director, and Registered Psychologist at The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs. 

Reference: O’Connor, R. (2014). Rewire Change Your Brain to Break Bad Habits, Overcome Addictions, Conquer Self-Destructive Behavior (1st ed.). New York, NY: Penguin Random House.

Photo credit: http://populationgrowth.org/standing-at-the-crossroads/

The Pain of Pet Loss

The death of a companion can be a heart-breaking and devastating experience for us; including the loss of a beloved pet. What is so special about our relationship with our pets, is that they truly love us unconditionally and gift us with the purest form of companionship. We often refer to our pets as “family members” because of the loyalty, trust, and friendship we build with them. Our relationship with them grows and strengthens over time, like any close and meaningful relationship in our lives.

It is very common for our clients to share the painful loss of a pet with us, whether recent or long ago. Sadly, many people feel ashamed or embarrassed by the pain caused by the loss. This is perpetuated by the myths and misinformation about the impact of loss on our lives.

When our pets die, run away, or have to be given away for whatever circumstance, the pain of the loss is not “smaller” or “less than” any other loss we may experience. Our emotional reaction to the loss is unique and individual to us and the relationship we shared with them. We cannot and should not compare our losses. Sometimes our most meaningful, reliable, and trustworthy relationship in our lives is with our pet.

I was inspired to write this blog because I recently had to put my family dog down. I realized again how inevitable grief and loss is in life and how painful it feels to say goodbye to someone I love so much. I feel privileged to share some information on pet loss that really helped me through my grief.

Don’t Replace the Loss: A common statement we hear after pet loss is, “It’s okay, you can get a new dog (cat, horse, etc.).” This comment is illusory, because bringing home a new pet will not take away the heartbreak or replace the special relationship we had with our previous pet. It may temporarily distract us from feeling sad and give us a sense of happiness, but at the end of the day, we still carry the pain from the loss of the pet we had to say goodbye to. Before rushing out to get a new pet, it is important to allow ourselves to grieve, feel our loss, and share our emotional experience with trusted others.

Don’t Minimize Your Feelings: Some people may tell us, “Oh it was just a dog,” or “Your family pet is supposed to die anyways.” These comments minimize our feelings and our loss, and they often isolate us further in our grief. We may begin to lie to others about how deeply we are hurting in order to avoid feeling judged or criticized. Very sadly, we have not been taught the proper tools to help each other through sad and difficult times like these. It is important to know that it is not “silly, immature or embarrassing,” to be devastated after experiencing pet loss of any kind. We all grieve in our own way, and whatever we feel at any given time is both normal and natural. There is no right or wrong way to feel. It is so important to honour your feelings and to be gentle with yourself as you heal through your grief.

Don’t Compare Your Loss: The Grief Recovery Handbook for Pet Loss states that over 14 million people per year in the US will face pet loss. Each relationship between the owner and pet is unique and individual. Not one person on the planet will know exactly how you feel because they are not you. Even if they had a parallel experience, they did not have the exact relationship that you had with your pet. It is easy for us to want to compare feelings with other pet owners whose pets have died, but it doesn’t complete or relieve the pain that we feel in our hearts. We all grieve our losses differently and therefore we should not compare our losses or set standards for how we should feel.

Whether your pet was a part of your life for many years or only a few, your relationship and companionship was meaningful and significant. It is important to acknowledge and honour your feelings as worthy, and normal and natural, and to take new action to heal your heart after loss.

The Grief Recovery Method Program® is a beautiful, heart-centred program that we specialize in at The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. It provides you with the tangible tools to grieve and complete your relationship with your pet, so that you can move forward with a renewed sense of hope, meaning, and purpose in life. Click here to book an appointment with us today.

This article was written by Gina Baretta, Psychology Intern and Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®, of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs. 

Photo credit: https://www.arflife.org/pet-loss-support-group

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