Archive for Anxiety and kids

Every Tear Matters: Practical Ways to Help Kids Find Strength In Grief

 Grief is a heavy emotion, and when kids experience it, it could make their life more challenging. As adults who love and care for them, we can help them find their strength in the face of loss.

In this article, you will understand what kids go through when they’re grieving and how we can support them. (Written by Michael Vallejo)

The Importance of Helping Kids Deal with Grief

Just like adults, children experience grief in response to loss, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, moving, losing a pet or friend, etc. Grief is a complex experience and children may express this emotion depending on their age, personality, or coping mechanisms. 

Parents, caregivers, and educators need to provide support to help children healthily process their grief. As kids receive support, they can gain valuable coping skills that can help them handle future losses. 

It also allows them to understand that sadness is normal, which makes them feel validated. 

Understanding Grief in Children

The experience of grief in children is different from that of adults since they still lack the emotional maturity to fully understand and express their feelings. 

How Children Perceive Grief

Each child will understand and respond to grief and loss differently. For example, preschool-aged kids might perceive death as temporary and reversible, so they might still look for the person who has died afterward.

While school-aged children might start to understand that death is permanent, and become anxious that other loved ones might also die. They might not want to be separated from their parents and caregivers. 

Teenagers have a good understanding that death is natural and a part of life, and may also take on adult responsibilities around the home. They might also be more interested in the meaning of life and death. 

Common Reactions and Behaviors in Grieving Children

Children grieve differently, and sometimes you might not see it expressed properly. This is because they might not know how to put their feelings into words. 

Other children may also seem strong and resilient one moment and become very distressed the next. They may express a variety of emotions from sadness, anger, confusion, guilt, and anxiety

Here are common reactions and behaviors in grieving children:

  • Sadness, which can be shown by crying one moment and playing the next
  • Anger, such as getting irritable or easily irritated
  • Denial, which can be shown by denying the reality of the loss
  • Anxiety, which leads to worries about their safety and the safety of others
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, or social activities
  • Struggling academically or having difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in eating habits and appetite
  • Regression, or displaying behaviors associated with younger children, such as thumb-sucking or bedwetting
  • Clinginess, or not wanting to be separated from parents and caregivers

The Importance of Every Tear

Many people see crying as a sign of weakness, but it’s okay to let your kids cry when they feel sad, hurt, or angry. Crying can help kids calm themselves, reduce their pain, and improve their mood. It helps them healthily process their grief. 

Significance of Expressing Emotions

Emotions are part of being human, so children need to learn how to identify, understand, and express their feelings. Teaching kids about emotions and encouraging them to express their feelings is important so they can develop healthy coping skills. By doing this, they are more likely to bounce back after strong emotions and avoid developing behavioral problems, such as aggression and acting out.

Grieving is an essential process toward acceptance because it can help kids come to terms with the reality of the loss. Without expressing their emotions, they may struggle to move forward. This can result in unresolved emotional pain that can lead to more problems in the future.

Healthy Part of the Grieving Process

Crying is a healthy part of the grieving process because it allows kids to release and express their intense emotions. It also provides a respite from the pain. 

According to a 2014 study, crying releases endorphins or feel-good chemicals that can help soothe pain.

Crying can also help build a sense of connection between people who are affected by grief, which can lead to empathy and understanding for kids. Lastly, crying can also be a way of honoring the person or object that was lost.

Practical Ways to Help Kids Find Strength in Grief

Helping kids find strength in grief involves providing them with love, support, understanding, and coping strategies that can help them move forward:

Encourage communication

Each child will react differently when they get news about a loss. Encourage your kid to put their thoughts and feelings about the situation into words. Allow them to ask questions and come to you when they are confused with their emotions. 

Remember that grief can often feel isolating, so communication with kids can help them feel less alone. Through open communication, you can let your children feel heard, seen, and understood. 

Normalize grief

It’s important to help kids understand that grief is a normal response to loss. Let them know that it will take time for them to feel better, but things will improve over time. You don’t have to hide your sadness as well, but you can express it in front of your child so they know that they are not alone. 

For example, you might talk about your grief with them to help them understand that what they’re feeling is normal. You can say, “I feel sad for your grandfather’s passing. I miss him very much, and sometimes I cry. Being sad is OK because it means that he was very important to us. When I feel down, I talk to a friend and she listens to me, so I don’t feel that I am alone.”

Teach mental health coping skills

Children might not yet have the right mental health coping skills to deal with negative emotions, so it is important to start teaching them early. These skills can help them keep their feelings under control and prevent them from letting their big emotions disrupt their daily lives.

For example, when they’re feeling sad, you can ask them to think of activities that they might enjoy, such as taking the dog out for a walk. You can also help them neutralize their sadness by asking them to identify things to be grateful for. Plan activities to spend time with friends when they’re feeling lonely.

There are also many ways to cope when they’re feeling angry due to a loss. For instance, you can make them a “calm down kit” full of things they like, such as a stress ball, art supplies, or storybooks. You can also ask them to dance it out together until their emotion dissipates.

Promote self-care

Ensure that your kids are taking care of their physical health as well because grief can be overwhelming and draining. Disrupted sleep and changes in appetite can take a toll on their physical health. Engaging in self-care activities can help reduce these effects. 

The best way to promote self-care is to lead by example. For example, you can set aside time for relaxation by engaging in activities such as yoga or taking a warm bath. For kids, this might involve activities such as drawing, coloring, or journaling.

Don’t forget to encourage your kids to eat healthily, get sufficient rest, and also have regular exercise. 

Seek professional help if needed

Grieving takes time, even for children. But if your child’s grief becomes too overwhelming or persists for an extended period, consider seeking support from a grief counselor, therapist, or mental health professional.

Here are some signs that your child might need professional help:

  • Grief symptoms that worsen with time
  • Extended periods of depression or loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy
  • Persistent imitation of the deceased or desire to join the person who died
  • Persistent regression to younger behavior
  • Substance abuse in teens
  • Refusal to go to school or spend time with friends

In a 2021 study, the researchers gathered kids and teens who were dealing with prolonged grief disorder. They were randomly split into two groups, where one group received a Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) program and the other group received supportive counseling. 

Both types of treatment helped the kids, however, CBT showed better results. CBT made a significant difference in alleviating the symptoms associated with prolonged grief disorder. It also helped in easing depression, symptoms linked to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and internalizing issues.

Support through journaling

Research has shown that journaling (also call expressive writing) can help process difficult emotions because the writer has the opportunity to express and understand their feelings. The Imagine Project is a guided 7-step journaling process for all kids K-12 (and adults). The first 3 steps give the child the opportunity to write their difficult story using the word Imagine to begin every sentence. Step 4 asks them to write a new ending to their story giving the chance to find meaning and possibility in their lives. The Imagine Project is free for anyone to download from www.theimagineproject.org. Download a journal now and you can write your Imagine stories together to share your own experiences, helping your child to understand he/she isn’t alone. 

Help Your Child Find Strength in Grief Through Your Love and Support

Always remember that the grieving process is different for everyone, and what works for one child may not work for another. So your main goal is to be flexible and patient as you provide support and guidance to your child. 

Also, keep in mind that it’s okay to grieve alongside your child. Take care of yourself as well so you can continue to be a strong support for them. 

Good luck and take care,

Michael Vallejo, LCSW, Child and Family Therapist, and Dianne Maroney, RN, MSN, Executive Director, The Imagine Project, Inc.

 


How Expressive Writing Helps Lessen Anxiety for Children and Adults

Most adults and children feel anxiety at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, the incidence of anxiety has increased over the last decade, and dramatically increased since the pandemic began. Anxiety is evoked by a change in life’s normal patterns or new unexpected events, challenging experiences, watching social media, even pressure from work, school, parents, friends, and family. Children may feel more anxiety because of changes in classrooms, life’s developmental challenges, feeling left out, too much pressure from family or school, and/or confusion about how life is supposed to work as they watch social media and new experiences of life unfold around them.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety can be mild or debilitating. When we are anxious we are overly concerned, our thoughts are more often negative, we compare ourselves to others more frequently, we think about failing, our confidence is low, and/or we worry excessively. Symptoms of anxiety in children will look like:

  • Finding it hard to concentrate
  • Not sleeping well, nightmares
  • Not eating well
  • Quick to show angry, irritability, or emotional outbursts
  • Constant worry or negative thoughts
  • Tense, fidgety
  • Fear of being alone
  • Worrying about loved ones
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, frequents colds or illnesses

Because anxiety can get in the way of being happy, functioning well in the world, doing well at school, making friends, and our overall psychological health, we need tools to cope with and mitigate anxiety. Teaching children tools for coping is imperative to their life long mental, emotional, and physical health. Expressive writing is one simple, effective, and free tool to lessen anxiety and improve emotional wellness.

What is Expressive Writing?

Expressive writing (EW) is free writing without focusing on grammar,  punctuation, or spelling. The writer sits and writes a deep and emotional piece about a personally significant experience, whether it’s is a past or present troubling event, or a topic that is currently concerning for them. The writing can be guided by prompts or simply freely expressing oneself as deeply as possible. Because people typically suppress emotions or focus on the negative they need tools to help with expression. Done correctly, EW can help the writing talk about their feelings and eventually see the positive in the situation.

How does Expressive Writing work?

For years research has shown the expressive writing reduces anxiety in adults and children (it also helps lessen depression). Although it’s not 100% clear how it helps, here are some thoughts about how it works. Expressive writing:

  • Gives an outlet for emotional expression
  • Organizes thoughts
  • Helps distance yourself from the situation
  • Helps gain control over the situation
  • Regulates emotion
  • Clears your mind and provides relief
  • Creates greater self-awareness and understanding about the situation

It also helps with:

  • Increasing feelings of well-being
  • Improving happiness
  • Improving social relationships
  • Increasing self-efficacy
  • Improving mental flexibility and ability to handle stress
  • Can improve sleep and increase memory

Using Expressive Writing

With all these positive factors, why not try it? It’s free too! One simple and easy format to use yourself, with your children, in a group, or in a classroom is called The Imagine Project. The Imagine Project is a 7-step journaling process that prompts the writer to write about a difficult experience and move into seeing the possibility of that experience, all using the word Imagine to begin every sentence. It’s very simple and set up in a journal format so parents, counselors, nurses, and/or teachers can use it with their children, clients, or students. The journals are downloadable for free at www.theimagineproject.org. There are 4 journals, Kinde, Kids, Teens, and Adults (there are digital versions too). Lessen plans and everything a teacher needs are available on the website www.theimagineproject.org. You can incorporate The Imagine Project into a variety of formats. It can be used once, or over and over again when children/students are faced with difficult life situations that are causing anxiety for them. Teachers benefits from it too when you use it yourself and/or you learn more about your students and give them the opportunity to create camaraderie, empathy, and a sense of community in the classroom. You are also giving them a free and effective lifelong tool to improve their overall emotional wellness.

To get started go to www.theimagineproject.org and download the age appropriate journal for you, your child, client, patient, or students. You will see their outlook on life improve, they will be able to focus better, and their overall emotional wellness will improve.

Good luck and keep Imagining!

Dianne

Dianne is the founder and CEO of The Imagine Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps children K-12 (and adults) process and heal from difficult life circumstances through expressive writing. Dianne has her Masters in Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing, has written multiple books, is an international speaker, lives outside of Denver, CO, and has 3 grown children. Learn more about The Imagine Project at www.theimagineproject.org.

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