Teen Grief: What to look for, what to do

Teen Grief Cues

  1. Difficulty with concentration, with a decrease in academic performance
  2. Body distress which include headaches, stomach aches, insomnia, and fluctuations in eating, eating disorders
  3. Acting out, including drug/alcohol use, risk-taking, promiscuity, uncontrolled emotions
  4. Wanting to be alone all the time  — isolated, sullen
  5. Increased irritability and anger
  6. Suicidal talk or behavior
  7. Anxiety, fear, panic, insecurity
  8. Lack of interest in usual activities
  9. Refusal to talk, or emotional withdrawal
  10. Becoming the “perfect” teen

Being with a Teen in Grief

  1. Establish a rapport – ask them questions about themselves to earn trust.
  2. Listen, care for and accept them as they are
  3. Acknowledge their loss, acknowledge that they are having a difficult time
  4. Assure them that what they are experiencing is normal
  5. Tell the truth, answer their questions honestly
  6. Expect the discussions to involve larger issues, not only the death or other loss
  7. Expect a range of emotions, sometimes shocking – accept their unique process
  8. Encourage them to participate in physical and creative activities that allow for expression of feeling and release of tension.
  9. Encourage peer group support, if available
  10. Remember that their families may be in turmoil and you might be the only stable influence in their life.

Resources:  The Dougy Center, The National Center for Grieving Children and Families, Alan Wofelt, Ph.D. and  Joseph A. Santiago

How to cope with grief — KOBI 5 news story

Five things to help with the grief many are feeling in the aftermath of the shootings:  Turn off the media if it’s too much; do nice things for other people; take inventory of the good things in life; take care of yourself — exercise and good diet; pay attention to the kids in your life and listen when they want to talk — help them process the grief they might feel.

Take care of yourself in the aftermath of school shooting

This photo and these tips come from a blogpost on  Hello Grief on how to move through this recent tragedy.  It’s important to take care of ourselves so the grief doesn’t get too big for us.  Here’s what Alisha Krukowski recommends:

  • Put yourself on an immediate “news diet.” Make a conscious and implementable plan about your news intake. That may mean allowing yourself to check in briefly with the news once every two hours. Or perhaps you’ll decide that giving yourself one solid hour, and then no other news for the day is a better fit. Regardless of your specific decision, make a plan and commit to sticking to it. Let friends and family know, so they are able to respect and support your choice.  Take note of how you feel after checking in with the news. If you find you feel worse than before you checked in, more reason to limit your news intake. Tragedy is not, and should not be a spectator sport.
  • Do something kind. It doesn’t matter what you do, but make a point to do something good or kind today, and each day as the crisis continues to unfold. Let someone ahead of you in traffic, leave a few extra dollars for your waitress, take your dog (and yourself) on an extra long walk.  I’m betting you’ll feel better after doing something kind for someone else. There’s something inherently therapeutic about acts of kindness, which can help you to balance out the negative emotions you may find yourself inundated with in times of publicized sorrow.
  • Refrain from posting “news” of the events on facebook, twitter, etc. If you feel inclined to post about your feelings of sadness, your wishes for impacted families, or your thoughts on tragedy in general, that may be something to consider. But posting updates about the tragedy itself will likely not help you or others. The specifics are often irrelevant, since the facts remain the same: Something terrible happened. Innocent individuals were injured or killed. There will never, ever be any bit of information or any new development that will make any of this make sense.
  • Reach out to those you love, and tell them you love them. It sounds a little clichéd, I know, but have you ever felt anything other than good after sharing your feelings of love or friendship with people in your life? It’s an easy way to both offer support, and feel support yourself.
  • Ask for help if you need help. If the news of tragedy has left you feeling overwhelmed with grief, sadness, fear, or any other emotion, please seek immediate support. If you need a shoulder to cry on, call a friend or family member. If you feel that you are in crisis, call 1-800-273-8255 or go immediately to your local emergency room.
  • If you have children in your life, be mindful of what they may be seeing and hearing. Again, I am not a therapist, but it is always a good idea to ask your children what they are feeling, and how you can help them to process those feelings. They may have created some “truths” in their minds that are not accurate or helpful for them to be holding. Ask them what they have learned. If you have any concerns about how to support your child through tragic events, you should reach out to school or grief counselors, therapists, or other local support services.
  • Physically do something to help. This doesn’t mean you have to fly to the impacted areas. This means choosing to devote time, energy, or money to a cause that is close to your heart. You can volunteer at a homeless shelter, send money (even a few dollars) to an organization that speaks to you, or help to clean up litter at an underfunded playground or park. When you immerse yourself in something that is helping those in need, you may feel a sense of connection to people everywhere who are helping where help is needed. It’s a good feeling, and again, that can help to balance out some of the negative feelings.

How to be with your children after tragic murders

Our hearts and prayers are with everyone hurt by today’s tragic school shooting.  Let’s take special care of the children in grief.  Thanks to the Children’s Advocacy Center and Children’s National Medicine Center for this timely information.
Helping Children Cope After a School Shooting
by Children’s Advocacy Center of Jackson County on Friday, December 14, 2012 at 2:45pm ·

In response to a school shooting tragedy, many children may have questions and concerns. The ICHOC offers the following suggestions to help guide parents, teachers, and caring adults to best support children who may be grieving, concerned, or troubled by the school shooting:

Be Supportive

  •  Children will benefit greatly from support and caring expressed by the adults in their lives. Create an environment in your home or classroom that encourages respect for each other’s feelings and fears, and allows for a supportive, healing environment.

Be Available

  •  Let children know that you are available to talk with them.
  •  Let children ask questions.
  •  It is ok if you do not have answers to all the questions. It is ok to let your child know that you do not have the answer but that you will try and find out.

Be Caring

  • Let children know about the support being provided to students, friends, and families of the victims.
  • Be aware of children who may have experienced a previous trauma and may be more vulnerable to experiencing prolonged or intense reactions and will need extra support.

Be Reassuring

  • Acknowledge the frightening parts of the event.
  • Explain what happened in words that children understand. Explanations should be appropriate to the child’s age, developmental stage, and language skills.
  • Reassure children that they are loved and will be taken care of.
  • Children who have concerns about siblings who are living on a college campus or have concerns about safety at their own school should be reassured and their concerns validated.

Be Thoughtful

  • Be aware of how you talk about the event and cope with the tragedy. Children learn about how to react to traumatic situations by watching and listening to parents, peers, and the media.
  • Reduce or eliminate your child’s exposure to television images and news coverage of the shooting. The frightening images and repetition of the scenes can be disturbing for children. If they do see coverage, be sure to talk with them about what they saw and what they understood about the coverage. Make sure to correct any misunderstanding or misinterpretations.
  • Maintain your child’s routine as best as possible.

Be Creative

  • For children who are too young to talk or do not feel comfortable talking about their feelings, expressive techniques such as play, art and music can provide additional ways for children to express their feelings and let you know what may be troubling them.

Many behaviors and symptoms of stress are normal for children who have just experienced a trauma. However, if you find that your child is preoccupied with the event, has ongoing sleep or eating disturbances, is experiencing intrusive thoughts or worries, is focused on fears about death, or is having difficulty going to school and leaving parents, your child should be evaluated by a mental health professional. Contact your pediatrician, family physician, or school counselor if you feel that the symptoms are persisting and are interfering with your child’s daily routines.

For more information and resources about children and traumatic stress, please visit our website at www.dcchildrens.com/ichoc. Fact sheets and other resources for parents, schools and professionals are available under the Resource section.

Copyright © by Children’s National Medical Center

Department of Psychiatry

International Center to Heal Our Children

Fact Sheets for Healing Series

The puzzle pieces of our new life

I heard my daughter tell a friend, “Puzzles are the only holiday tradition we have.”

Wow, I suppose that’s true in a way.  After her dad died in 2004, I have tried to make the holidays special each year, but haven’t found anything the sticks year after year except our ritual of buying new jigsaw puzzles, bringing out the card table, and setting up for evenings of puzzling.   As we sat down the other night, I wondered about this tradition since our loss – the satisfaction of seeing the beautiful images unfold before our eyes as we fit the pieces together, a symbolic road map through grief.  Michael’s death brought a sense of chaos and uncertainty to our lives — the pieces didn’t fit in the way they had.  Not much about the holidays made sense to me, either.  What got us through year after year was the patient step by step, trying and failing, trying again and succeeding, bringing a chaotic mess of little pieces into something organized.  And now, I’d say that life does make sense.  This year we picked easier puzzles and we’ve already completed two.  I suppose the easy puzzles reflect that life is easier this holiday season.  We are blessed to have each other and a tradition that has helped us through this difficult time of year.

Life is precious

My friend, Barbara Gilday, shared this on Facebook today.  It reminds me that grief is so much a part of life and that it’s so important to reflect on the precious people and moments every day!

Life is so fragile and precious. A friend died this week, another friend has ALS, another 2 have breast cancer, one is in hospital with unknown cause of infection, and yet another lost his brother last week. My prayers and thoughts are with them all. Then there are their beloved family members left behind, or caretaking. Please love the caretakers. It is a soul draining job when it goes on and on, as it often does. Take them out for some fun, stay with the sick person so the caretaker can get out, listen, ask how you can help. We are all connected. When one suffers, we all suffer. When one gives relief, we all breathe easier. Love those who you have been given to love and reconcile with those that you are in tension with. Life is too short and holy to let the little things interfere – and most of them are little things, when you think of the big picture. Thanks for listening.

“Nothing is normal in grief and no two mourners are the same”

“Nothing is normal in grief and no two mourners are the same,” says an article republished on the Hello Grief website: The way we grieve now (Original article by Piper Wise).

Take a look at this article filled with stories of how different people have coped with their grief and created new relationships with those they have loved.  It’s a good reminder that you get to mourn in your own way.