• Back to School Time: How to Help Kids/Young Adults Who Are Grieving from a Major Change or Loss in Life

    Posted on August 18, 2013 by Cynthia Gossman in Coping With Grief, Emotion Strategist, How to Help Others in Grief, JOY Restoration, Relationship coaching.

    Many areas around the country have already started back to school.  Some will be starting after Labor Day.  It can be a very exciting as well as stressful time indeed.  Back to school shopping for clothes, notebooks, pens, glue sticks, tissues, sanitizers, backpacks, etc.

    Some kids are now at the top of the food chain and are the seniors of their school tier.  Others however are now at the bottom of the food chain starting all over again.  This can be a very exciting yet nervous time.

    Bullying is more prevalent than ever before these days.

    When a child or young adult has experience a major life change or crisis like moving, the loss of a loved one, parents divorcing, natural disaster, etc. they are much more vulnerable.  They are shattered inside, full of sorrow and possibly anger; confused and most likely frustrated.  Many times all of this emotion gets misconstrued and disguised as something else…

    Here are a few differences parents and teachers may see in a grieving child:

    • Bullying themselves – not knowing how to channel and properly release all of these emotions felt at one time. This may be seen in class, extra-curricular activities, on the bus, in the school yard, in the neighborhood.
    • Reclusive – don’t know how to reach out and ask for help.  Even simply knowing how to say, “I’m hurting and I don’t know what to do” They don’t know how to put what they are feeling into words, so they say nothing.  Stay in their room more.  Become less social.
    • Lower Performance – in sports, dance, art, hobbies, and other extra- curricular activities they have previously thrived at and excelled. – They may be experiencing anhedonia, which is when one has lost pleasure in something that usually has brought them joy.
    • Academic Decline – Rebelling may be one reason you see grades dropping as they consciously or subconsciously know studying or not studying is a chosen behavior to implement control in an area of their life they have had no control over.  However, it may simply be the fact that they have a lack of focus and concentration.
    • On the other hand, your child may do a 180 and start excelling in everything.  You may think “Wow, this is wonderful”.  Again be alert in watching with your eyes and listening with your ears.  Being too happy or becoming an overachiever suddenly can be a red flag.

    These above are just a few signs and behaviors that can be noticed when a student is grieving from a major change and loss.  The grief and mourning process can mimic many diagnoses: such as depression, add/adhd, behavior disorders, and more.  A word of advice to parents, teachers, coaches, instructors, team parents, den mothers, scout leaders…..

    Have your eyes AND ears open – watch and listen to what the student is saying and doing

    • Do not react to something that seems shocking – be proactive, ask questions, have common sense
    • Do not deny any emotion a student expresses to you by trying to fix it and saying “you don’t mean that” or “no you don’t”.  Listen to them.
    • Parents – Build relationships and rapports with all the teachers, coaches, leaders etc. Keep the communication lines open.
    • Seek help from a support group
    • Seek guidance from a grief expert.  A Grief Coach will know which questions to ask to help get the mourning process in gear.  A Grief Coach will be able to pick up on signs and symptoms and recommend if psychiatric would be beneficial.
    • If psychiatric help seems necessary, do your research in choosing a good clinician.  Be aware of the diagnoses I listed above and cautious of medications as your child may not have the actual diagnoses and it may be a part of the grieving process.

    Here are words to STAY AWAY from:

    • It just takes time – keeps someone stuck in a waiting mode and loses years of life.  Only action changes thing – deliberately seeking change – what are you doing with time?
    • You need to be alone – isolation keeps people stuck. They need others
    • I know how you feel – No, you don’t.  Everyone grieves differently. Instead, invite the person to share how they feel
    • You just need to keep busy – It’s not about a LOT of action, but the RIGHT action
    • It was God’s will – At that point a hurting person can be turned against God, made to feel misplaced guilt that something they did, caused this.
    • You should be over it or just get over it – This is insulting to the grieving person that a random deadline has been set for them, that disregards their pain and the event itself.
    • You’ll find someone else – Devalues what was lost as if they were readily replaceable. The grieving person’s solution is not first to replace what was lost, but rather to heal their heart.
    • You brought this on yourself – This makes a down person feel even worse – BAD IDEA

     Here are words THAT CAN HELP:

    • My heart goes out to you
    • I can’t imagine how you feel (?) saying it as a question invites the person to share
    • You’re not alone. I am here.
    • I guess your world must be upside down now (?) saying it as a question, invites the person to share
    • What specifically can I do to help? (and then offer two choices). Don’t expect a grieving person to come up with tasks off the cuff.  Their mind is elsewhere.
        • pick up groceries
        • bring a meal
        • mow the grass
        • watch the kids

      Reaching out for help is one of the most difficult things to do when stressed out.  Together we can help each other.

      Cynthia – Your Emotion Strategist and JOY Restoration Coach

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