A Child’s Perspective
As a way of introducing myself first, my name is Jake Andreason. I have been a member of Share Parents of Utah since about April of 2015, and recently have had the opportunity to help out with a few of the workshops offered. My background is in mental health having worked as a therapist for several years. I am licensed in Utah as a Clinical Mental Health Counselor, and I am the current clinical director for an outpatient mental health clinic in South Jordan. All that being said though, I am not coming to you strictly as a professional. My wife and I lost our baby boy a little over a year ago, and that is what brought me to work with Share Parents of Utah. I can relate to a lot of what parents may be going through as I am going through this myself.
What I want to talk to you about today is related to understanding what a child goes through when struggling with grief. Children can experience grief in a very different way than we do. Some of this depends on age, connection to the loss, and the ability to manage emotions as they come up. Younger kids may not fully understand, but can still connect to the emotion(s) going on around them. Older kids may internalize things in a different way. This may vary from just noticing that mom and dad are upset, to fully taking in the loss of a sibling on their own.
The big thing to be aware of is how your child expresses emotion. This can be tricky if your son or daughter doesn’t know how to do this, or may be a little shut down. Younger kids don’t typically understand this in the same way, so what you end up getting are changes in behavior. This may look like an increase in moments of fear, anxiety, or anger. With older kids, teenagers in particular, they may not want to talk or it may go the other way and they have a thousand questions. Grief is never a one way fix though. This means that each person has the right to feel it, and work through it, in their own way.
Many kids struggle with grief because they don’t understand what it means. It is helpful to take some time to talk about this. Younger kids do great with books to read through followed by time to ask questions. Older kids may want one-on-one time to talk. It is generally helpful to start with this step though to get a better understanding of how they see grief.
After this, we need to find an outlet to express emotion. Grief is a healthy thing for people as long as you don’t get stuck. Younger kids tend to struggle more when trying to talk about feelings. It can be much easier to use outlets like drawing, painting, or playing with toys to process grief. When you have a teenager that doesn’t want to talk, but clearly they look upset, it helps to just have time together with them. Talk about music, movies, or anything else they want. Often times, as they start to feel more connected, they will begin to open up about their thoughts or worries. You can be there for them in this way without having to push them to say something specific to you.
Things to Watch for
Again, each child is different with this so as a parent you will know your child best. Generally, what I tend to look for are things like drastic behavior changes. These behavior changes may look like your child shifts from normally being very outgoing to isolating without wanting contact from anyone, or your easygoing child may suddenly become very angry and aggressive. This will generally impact your child’s ability to function on a day-to-day basis and you may start to see issues with school, friends, or family.
In these moments, you also tend to get a struggle with expressing emotion to the point of shutting down or avoiding. This is a worry if it gets deeper as the emotion can be consuming if there isn’t a way to get it out. Depression and anxiety are common, but if you ever start to hit points of self harm behaviors or statements of suicide stop what you’re doing right away and get help.
Be Aware of Yourself
As important as it is to make sure your kids are okay, also try to remember that you have to be there for yourself. You can’t expect to take care of everyone else around you while avoiding how you are feeling. This is very difficult to do as a parent because we tend to put our kids first for everything. They may also benefit from seeing you do this because you are showing them that it is important to take care of yourself.
It is important to know that there are several resources available to you. Share Parents of Utah has done a great job of providing a framework of people to connect with. There are options available within this network to find answers to many questions, but professional help is also available for parents, families, and children. The time to look at a professional as an option generally will stand out as behavior starts to really change, or daily functioning is impaired.
I am personally going to be going through these particular areas in our July workshops. I am doing one workshop for younger kids (ages 2-10), and one for older (ages 11-18). In these workshops we are going to practice some of these techniques and go over a broad range of areas to watch for with grief. It will be more hands-on to help give examples of ways to help kids move through difficult emotions. These workshops will be by RSVP only, are open to anyone reading this posting and we will allow up to 10 families to participate on each date. Information for these workshops can be found on Share Parents of Utah's website under the Support Meetings/Workshops tab. Email email@example.com to reserve your spot(s) today! I look forward to meeting with you and your family and healing on this journey together.