Archives >

Signs of a Grieving Child

Unfortunately most children will experience grief and loss before entering into adulthood. Some forms of loss that a child could experience include divorce, death in the family, pet loss, moving, and bullying. As parents, teachers, caregivers, and adults, it is our responsibility to be aware of the signs, emotions, and reactions a child may exhibit in response to grief. This blog will provide indicators that a child may be grieving and provide a set of questions you can ask the child to help them express their emotions. 

Mood Changes: Every child and individual will grieve and express their emotions in their own unique way. There is no “right or wrong” way to grieve or show your emotions. Additionally, not everyone will have the same responses and emotional expressions at the time of a loss. With that said, adults should be prepared to acknowledge a variety of emotions the child may express and understand that all feelings are a normal and natural response to grief. It is normal to have some good days and some bad days. Additionally, a child may have sudden or postponed mood changes depending on certain triggers or situations they are in. Although this is a normal occurrence with loss, it is a sign that the child could be grieving and may be seeking support.

Changes in Sleep Patterns: Similar to adults, after a loss or a life change a child may have sleep disturbances. Children could either spend too much time sleeping, be in and out of sleep, or not be sleeping at all. If you notice a child is having sleep disturbances you can ask them questions such as “What are you thinking about”, “Why do you want to stay in bed all day?” These open ended questions allow for conversation where the child can begin to share what is causing their sleep disturbances. Having an open and honest conversation with your child creates a safe and secure place to express their emotions without judgment or criticism. If your child is having difficulties falling asleep, a tool you can use is the “headspace app for kids” which offers meditation strategies that helps young children fall asleep.

Changes in Normal Activities: Children are usually involved in recreational activities, enjoy spending time with friends, being with family, and engaging in free play. If you notice your child is no longer enjoying or wanting to participate in activities they used to have pleasure in then it would be important to investigate why. Let’s use the example of Emily. Emily is 11 years old and enjoys going to dance on Tuesdays and Thursdays, likes to spend time with her best friend Emma, and playing soccer with her dad on Saturdays is the highlight of her week. After the sudden passing of her family dog she no long wanted to play soccer with her dad on Saturdays. Her dad became worried and decided to ask Emily “Why don’t you like to play soccer on Saturdays?” Emily responded by saying “I just don’t.” Dad replied and said “Well I am always here if you want to play.”  A few hours later Emily came up to her dad and explained that she didn’t want to play soccer because her dog Lola was unable to join them and it made her sad. Dad patiently listened to Emily cry and explain how she was feeling and told her that when she felt ready they could play soccer again. Letting your child know that you are available when they are willing to communicate is important. Although some signs could be subtle, it is essential we are attuned and aware of the individual changes that could stem from grief. 

Isolation: One of the myths about grief and loss is “Grieve Alone”. You may be wondering why this is a myth? Children and individuals may isolate and grieve alone if they feel that they do not want to burden others with their feelings. During special times in our lives it is simpler for people to want to celebrate with us rather than grieve with us. Additionally we have been taught to “shake it off” or “not to worry”, therefore when our pain and grief is so heart-wrenching it is easier to hide it from others and grieve alone. Just like when we celebrate the positive changes and events in our lives, we need to also be there to support children during the challenging and difficult times. Having open communication and informing the child that you are emotionally available for them at all times is important. When a child does share something with you, refrain from comments suggesting they need to “not feel bad” or to isolate. Some comments to avoid are “go to your room if you need to cry”, “when you’re done crying, then we can talk”, and “big girls don’t cry”. 

Shifts in Energy: Emotional pain is exhausting, draining, and uses up a lot of our mental and emotional capacity. When a child is grieving it is normal for them to have a change in their energy levels. Energy could fluctuate and a child could have a lot of energy or minimal energy. Sometimes when we grieve we want to keep ourselves busy, therefore we miraculously find extra energy. When this happens, we will eventually begin to feel emotional burnout yet our grief and pain still remains. If you are finding the child is irritable, having difficulty falling asleep, and is over-stimulated during the day, this is something to pay attention to. On the other hand, grief can make us groggy, fatigued, and unmotivated to do our regular activities. This also occurs because our pain and emotions are so strong it becomes draining and difficult to do other things in life. For a child if you see that they are not wanting to get out of bed, having more naps than usual, or feeling fatigued, it is something to pay attention too.

These signs of grief are a normal and natural response after a loss. It is important as adults that we don’t misinterpret that there is something wrong with the child or that this behavior is abnormal. Grief is complicated, therefore our feelings and reactions can be complicated too. The best way to support a child is to give them a safe environment, allow them to be honest about their feelings, and encourage them to share their emotions and feelings around the loss.

If you are seeking professional support in how to effectively help your child through a loss, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team at The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. We can be reached at 780-288-8011 or info@healmyheart.ca.

This article was written by Gina Baretta, 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. 

Photo credit: Thinkstock 

What is EMDR Therapy?

There are several different therapeutic approaches that our therapists are trained in and use in clinical practice. We are proud to have two Mental Health Therapists that are trained to offer EMDR as a therapeutic intervention. You may be wondering if EMDR is a good fit for you. This blog will provide an overview of EMDR and answer some questions you may have.

What is EMDR?

EMDR is an abbreviation for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is a therapeutic intervention that was created by Francine Shapiro and is not a standard form of talk therapy. EMDR is based on the use of bilateral stimulation. Often times it is done by having the client move their eyes back and forth but could also be done by tapping the clients knees or having them hold buzzers in their hands. 

EMDR is often seen as a faster treatment when compared to other modalities. Though some people may only need a couple sessions, it is important to know that every person responds in a unique way and some people may need more.

EMDR, helps you learn from negative experiences from the past, works through triggers and memories that are distressing, and then incorporates an action plan so you can excel and function at your full potential.

What is EMDR used for?

Trauma is a devastating and distressing experience that many people experience in their lives. When a traumatic event occurs, our brain processes the information we see, feel, and hear and then stores it in our memory. When a person experiences a traumatic event, it can create limiting beliefs, negative emotions, flashbacks, nightmares, and a decrease in energy. After a traumatic event, a person may also run into triggers that can create an emotional reaction. EMDR is a therapeutic approach that is typically used to focus on negative feelings and recovery from traumatic events. Although it is specifically used for trauma, it can also be used to help improve negative life situations such as rejections, failures, and stress (Maxfield, 2008).

What to expect in your sessions

If you are thinking that EMDR might be a good fit for you, you may be wondering what your sessions would entail. EMDR uses an eight-phase approach and focuses on addressing the experiences that are stored in our memories (Maxfield, 2008). The full treatment approach involves working through past experiences that are forming the distressing issues and then creating a way to look at the memories. The eight phases include the following steps,

  1. Addressing your history, needs, and coming up with a plan
  2. Preparing you for the treatment
  3. Assessing which parts of your memory need to be attended to
  4. Desensitization
  5. Cognitive installation
  6. Body scan
  7. Closure
  8. Re-evaluation  

The evidence behind the protocol

When looking for a therapy model that may fit our needs, some of us want to know if there is evidence to support its effectiveness. Francine Shaprio shared that controlled research studies have proven that EMDR is an effective treatment for people with PTSD. Individuals who have suffered from PTSD and other traumatic life events have reported improvements in their daily functioning after receiving EMDR treatments (Shapiro, 2008) Specifically it is has shown the levels of self-efficacy and well-being were more prominent over anxiety and depression.

If you are interested in exploring EMDR for yourself, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us for more information or with any questions you may have at info@healmyheart.ca.

References 

Shapiro, F. (2018). Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy, Third Edition : Basic Principles, Protocols, and Procedures (Vol. Third edition). New York: The Guilford Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.proxy.cityu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1636433&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Hensley, B. (2015). An emdr therapy primer, second edition : From practicum to practice. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com

Maxfield, L. (2008). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. In F. T. Leong (Ed.), Encyclopedia of counseling (Vol. 1, pp. 199-202). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: 10.4135/9781412963978.n65

This article was written by Gina Baretta, 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. 

Photo credit: https://www.emdrtraining.ie/what-is-emdr-therapy/

What I learned From My Dad’s Death

On September 1, 2012, I woke up feeling empowered and excited, as it was the last weekend before my first year of University. I had been looking forward to University for a few years now, and I couldn’t believe the time had come. It was a beautiful morning, crisp fresh air, birds chirping, while I enjoyed a morning coffee on the deck with my dad. We enjoyed a conversation about my goals for the upcoming year before I left that morning for a weekend getaway.

Who knew, in a few hours, what started as a beautiful day was going to be one of the cloudiest and worst days of my life. When I arrived in Calgary, my mom called me and told me my dad had a massive heart attack after his soccer game earlier that afternoon. I could hear the fear and udder sadness in my mom’s voice and I desperately wished I was home to be there with her and my sister.

My dad was in the hospital for a few days before he suddenly died on September 5th. I will never forget hugging my dad and saying goodbye for the last time. I was confused, devastated, and terrified to imagine what my life was going to be like without him. I just wanted time to stop because I was not ready to face the next day.

During this devastating time in my life, I had learned some valuable life lessons about grief and loss. Some information I discovered on my own, and some I acquired from people who specialized in loss.

Death and loss is inevitable: I always thought that you could avoid loss, or that it would never happen to me, especially at a young age. Sounds silly right? I quickly learned that loss is an inevitable life transition we will all experience at some point. After understanding that loss was inevitable I also became aware of several other losses that had impacted my life. After reflecting upon how I healed from those losses, I realized how important it was to move through the pain of the death of my dad, rather than avoid it.

You don’t have to be strong: One of the first comments I heard after my dad died was, “It is time for you to be strong for your family.” At 18 years old, I had never experienced a loss of this magnitude. I mean, it was my dad! I didn’t know how to absorb that comment. But because I trusted the advice given to me, I began to act strong. Days, weeks, and months went by and I was being as strong as I could, but I was not feeling any better, and neither was anybody else. I realized that being strong was a distraction from how I was really feeling. It was a way for me to avoid my feelings and bury them deep down inside. When I stopped acting strong and listened to my heart and emotions, I understood why I was so devastated and what was hurting me the most about my dad’s death.

Time does not heal: I had heard several times, “It will get better soon” and “Just give it time”. These comments sound promising and hopeful, especially during a time of great sadness, but the simple fact of time passing was not enough to heal my heart. I could have spent the last six years waiting for the day that it was going to “get better”, but instead I took action, within time, to heal and move beyond the pain of my dad’s death. I acknowledged what was keeping me stuck in my pain and I bravely took the actions of the Grief Recovery Method®. It was an emotional investment that changed my life forever.

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my dad. That is completely healthy and natural. I can’t help but see him in myself every single day. I can still hear his voice in the back of my head cheering me on and offering me advise in the big decisions I am making in my life. If I would not have acknowledged my feelings and took the brave steps to move forward from my pain, I would be struggling to keep him in my everyday life without feeling complete pain and isolation. The biggest lesson I have learned from his death, is that it is okay to move forward. It is okay to move beyond the pain and the suffering and live a full and wonderful life. Today, I remember my dad for who he was in life, not just in death, and I cherish all of the fond memories I shared with him.

If you are curious about the actions I took that changed my life, please contact me at gina@healmyheart.ca and visit our website for more information at www.healmyheart.ca.

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. 

Photo credit: http://www.christianparenting.org/articles/eight-great-daddy-daughter-dates-for-the-purposeful-parent/

Next Page »