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Worst Things to Say to a Child Who is Grieving

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Most of us struggle in knowing how to give comfort to an adult who is experiencing a loss or death of a loved one, let alone a child.  We often struggle with understanding death as adults and attempt to protect children from having to experience this same mess of emotions as we are.   Many adults are uncomfortable discussing death and dying and use phrases that may be misunderstood by children.   At times however, our well-intentioned messages do the complete opposite of giving comfort!  Here are the top five to avoid!

1- “He/She is in a better place now”

This can be such a confusing statement to a child (or anyone struggling).  What could be better than being here alive with me?? This type of a message can unintentionally cause the child to internalize a belief that “I must have done something bad” or “I must be bad” if being dead is better than being alive and spending time together.  A better thing to say is, “Your Mom  can’t feel any more pain or suffering now because she has died and her body isn’t able to feel these things now”.

2- “We lost your Grandpa”

A young child is going to be very confused by this.  They may wonder “Did Grandpa run away?”  or  “What?! Grandpa is lost?  Let’s go find him!”.  The child may worry about their loved ones health and feel anxious if they are safe or being taken care of by someone nice.  They may worry about them being alone and scared, which is exactly how a child would feel if they were lost too!  A better thing to say is “Grandpa died last night” and answer what questions your child may have about his death.

3- “He/She has gone to sleep and won’t ever wake up”

Young children may become very scared to go to sleep after hearing this, after all, if this happened to Aunt Thelma, then it could happen to them also if they go to sleep!  Many children struggle with sleeping in their own beds following the death of a loved one, as nighttime and being alone in their bed is a perfect combination for their worries and imagination to take hold and create very scary possibilities.  It is normal for a child to experience some regression during this time, they may begin bedwetting, climbing into the parent’s bed, struggling with falling and staying asleep, as well as refusal to be alone.

4- “He/She has passed away”

This is a typical phrase we use culturally to describe the death of someone.   However, most children do not know the definition of  “passed away” is actual death.  A better way to describe death to a child is to say, “Uncle Joe died today.  This means that his heart is no longer beating, his mind isn’t thinking, his lungs no longer work and he has stopped breathing.  His body can’t feel any pain or cold or discomfort”.  Some adults feel uncomfortable about being this upfront or frank about death, but  this is actually a really important lesson every single human needs to learn.  Every single person will both live and die at some point.  It is okay to talk about this openly and honestly.

5- “You should feel happy now that they are in heaven”

Who has ever felt happy when someone has died??  You may feel peace or tenderness or even relief,  but most humans do not experience feelings of happiness and joy as part of their grieving process.  When we say statements like this to kids (or adults) we unintentionally are shaming them for feeling otherwise.  Happy may be the very last emotion they are feeling at this point in time. There are no “shoulds” in grief, especially in childhood grief.  A better way to say this is, “Its okay to feel sad and mad and any other feeling you may feel right now”.

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5 steps to Stress Reduction

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Muscle relaxation has always been a staple in stress reduction, but is often not something we jump to when we recognize stress or other uncomfortable emotions. In fact, we often unnecessarily carry emotional stress in our muscles long after a stressful event or situation has passed. To combat the negative effects stress has on our bodies and minds many researchers and clinicians suggest engaging in activities like yoga or deep breathing. When we hold tension in our muscles we are sending our brain the signal to release cortisol, the stress hormone. This is a good thing if we need to be primed for action, but can have adverse effects on our mental and physical health if we don’t counter act the cortisol after the stressful even has passed. In the fast-paced world we live in, with near constant stressors being thrown our way, it is rare that people can or do take the time needed to fully relieve their muscles of the stress impact, and thus it builds throughout the day.
Maybe you cant skip that stressful work meeting to go to a yoga class, but what if you could de-stress without leaving the office, or even de-stress in the stressful moment itself. You can. Here is a 5-step tip to help you tap into stress reduction throughout the day.

1- Check in with yourself throughout the day to see if you are feeling stress. Even little amounts of stress can have a big impact on your mental and physical health. Being aware of when we are feeling stress is the first step to stress reduction.

2- Rate your stress level on a scale of 0-10 so that after the muscle relaxation you can have a gauge of how it worked and if you need to take a few more seconds to relax and bring yourself further down the scale.

3- Do a body scan to assess how and where your body is holding the stress? Are you feeling tight, tense, pain, aching, fidgeting, or tingling? Are there any more subtle areas are holding tension?

4- Consciously release the tension of this area as you exhale. Imagine the muscle relaxing even if you can’t fully feel it right away. Drop your shoulders away from your ears, let your hips and legs rest heavy on the seat, and soften the muscles in your face and neck.

5- Repeat. Now that you’re more relaxed notice if there are other areas in need of relaxation.

This activity done frequently in short periods of time throughout a day may have a bigger impact on your stress reduction than that yoga class you’ve been meaning to get to. So the next time you get cut off on the freeway, overloaded with another task at work, or frustrated with your child notice how your body responds and let go of the tension in your muscles.

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Power of Play

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I was lucky enough to be featured on Dr. Christina Hibbert’s podcast Motherhood a few weeks ago.  We spent an hour talking about the importance of Moms in their child’s life- focusing on the power of play!

Play is a crucial part of healthy development for our children, and guess what? It’s an essential part of a healthy YOU, too. Through play, we can better understand our children, their needs, and what we can do to help them through the hard times. We can also strengthen relationships and build connections that last a lifetime. And when we approach life and motherhood more playfully, we not only set the example for our kids; we actually learn, create, relax, and live better, too. In this episode, I’m talking with Clair Mellenthin, LCSW, an expert on play therapy, and she’s got some valuable lessons each of us needs to hear about the power of play—for us, for our children, and for our families. Don’t miss this fun, fact-filled, play-inspiring episode! And visit my website DrChristinaHibbert.com for more on this and other “Motherhood” topics!

http://webtalkradio.net/internet-talk-radio/2015/11/09/motherhood-moms-kids-the-power-of-play/

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Managing Loss over the Holidays

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Loss and grief are some of the most powerful emotions we can experience and during the holiday season, symptoms of grief that have previously relented, might suddenly return.  Such is the case with many clients I treat. For some, grief is new, for some their loss has occurred years earlier.  Either way, the truth of loss is that we are never truly finished with grieving when someone significant to us dies.  However, (and my clients challenge this!) there are many ways to live with the loss without suffering from it. Here are some suggestions to manage grief during the holidays:
1 – Create rituals and memorials of your loved one. It is helpful to draw on your personal spiritual and cultural beliefs to guide you in the creation of a meaningful remembrance.  For example, one client put up a “Chicago Bulls” tree in honor of her son, who was an avid fan.
2 – Meditate by intentionally remembering both the happy and sad memories.  Avoidance rarely works and leads to more suffering.  Set aside time and space to do this meditation-either journaling, listening to calming music or looking at fun pictures shared with your loved one.
3 – Draw on your support system. Reach out to friends or others who share your grief and let them know this is a difficult time for you.  Attend an event with them or just spend time with friends as a diversion.  Isolation creates more suffering.
4 – Reconnect with a therapist or former grief group.  Re-entering therapy for a session or two can aid in reminding yourself of tools used in grieving.  Or just simply processing what you are experiencing with a professional can be helpful.  Attending a grief group often helps as well.
5 – Change holiday gatherings to limit painful reminders. Maybe it’s time to gather for a breakfast instead of a traditional dinner that your loved one was the focus of.  Having gift exchanges on a new day or omitting them and volunteering for a charity in behalf of your loved one can be very healing.
Using the above suggesting can decrease suffering.  Of course there will always be a void when someone you have loved so much is no longer seen on
a daily basis, but many have found every year hurts a little less than the year before, and as one client stated ” I try not to focus on my own individual pain and try to focus more on the fact that those I have lost are no longer hurting”. Thinking about it that way can bring more comfort and solace.
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Five Real Life Skills for High Tech Kids: Dr. Julie Hanks Studio 5

We live in a technology-saturated world, and our kids are often more adept at the newest gadgets than we are! I’ve found that parents are sometimes weary about the newest developments in the tech world. But these are the times we live in, and the internet will never go away. The online world can improve our lives or it can distance us, so I invite adults to embrace the good it can bring. However, there are certain skills that our children may be (somewhat) lacking in how to function and have relationships in a non-virtual way. Here are 5 real life skills for high-tech kids.

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Finding the Holiday Spirit (Part 2): Navigating Family Issues as a Couple

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As discussed in the first part of this series, couples often face challenges between the two of them during the holiday season.  However, the stress doesn’t stop there.  Couple’s often find themselves struggling to enjoy the season because of family-related issues, and the pressure that can come from trying to celebrate with everyone that is important to them.  In the second part of this series, I contribute to sharing some helpful ways for couples to navigate through these obstacles, and make the holidays enjoyable for everyone.
Click the link below to read:
http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2015/11/13/3-ways-to-navigate-family-issues-as-a-couple-during-the-holidays/
The end of the year can be such a special opportunity for couples to connect in unique ways, and strengthen the relationship that exists between them.  Don’t let the potential stress of this time prevent you and your partner from taking this opportunity, and having a very happy holiday season!
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Are You a Drama Queen?: Dr. Julie Hanks on KSL’s Studio 5

Are you a Drama Queen?

We’ve all experienced drama at one time or another. Maybe it’s with a gossipy co-worker, an overbearing family member, or a nosy friend. But how do you know if you yourself are the one being overly dramatic? Self-awareness is key, but the problem is that most people who really struggle with this are entirely oblivious to the fact. Here are some questions to ask yourself to determine whether or not you’re a drama queen (as well as some tips to help you not let drama get the better of you):

1. Do I lash out with others when I’m not included?

In my clinical practice, I’ve often seen this manifest in relationships with in-laws. For example, a woman I worked with was upset when her mother-in-law had a fun outing with others in the family but didn’t include her. If this kind of situation happens to you, how would you handle it? Some might take extreme offense, harbor great resentment, become overly dramatic, and lash out. Others may stay silent and conceal that it was painful to be excluded. But I challenge my readers to assume positive intent and then simply ask for what you want. It’s okay to say something like, “That was probably a fun thing you all did. It hurt me a little to not be invited. I’d love to be included next time around.”

–> Avoid the drama by being direct and assertive and not lashing out or gossiping.

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Finding the Holiday Spirit (Part 1): Coping With Common Couple Challenges

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Holiday time is officially upon us!  While holidays can be a time for laughter, family, and fun they can also bring with them stress for couples.  Many couples end up finding themselves arguing and feeling tension, and simply trying to get through the holidays with as little damage as possible.  When this happens, it is often because of a few simple mistakes that couples make, which can be easily corrected.
In Part 1 of a two-part series of articles, I contribute to sharing a few of the common challenges couples face during the holiday season, and
ways to avoid them.  Click the link below to read:
http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2015/11/11/coping-with-common-challenges-as-a-couple-during-the-holidays/
This holiday season, avoid strain on your relationship, and use this time to enhance the bond between you and your partner.
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5 Tips for Creating a Peaceful Holiday Season

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At the beginning of November my mom sent me a text that read “I just saw my first Christmas commercial of the season…. I’m starting to feel anxious.”  It was meant as a joke between us because of how early the commercial side of Christmas starts.  All joking aside, Christmas can be a very stressful time for a lot of people.  Personally, I can become overwhelmed at Christmas time.  The shopping.  The parties.  The neighbor gifts.  The decorating.  The list goes on and on.  I thought sharing some tips on how I stay peaceful and stress free during this time of year would be helpful.

1) Identify what triggers your anxiety during the holidays.  This seems like a no brainer, but is so important to decreasing your stress.  Is it handing out neighbor gifts?  Is putting up Christmas lights going to send you over the edge?  Figure out what causes so much anxiety and then…

2) Identify what causes you the most joy during this time of season.  Cookie making?  Decorating the tree?  If it brings joy write it down.  At this point you should have a list of what causes you stress and what causes you joy.  Once you have that list…

3) Prioritize.  This time of year is not about doing every last Christmas activity, or attending each and every party to which you received an invitation.  If that is what brings you joy then by all means please enjoy those parties.  If party attendance is on your list of triggers then prioritize which parties are the most important and regretfully decline the others.  The idea is to bring joy into this time of year and push out the things that cause so much stress.  This may change every year.  One year at my house, to decrease stress, we only put up stockings and a Christmas tree.  Another year we only attended select Christmas parties.  We prioritized what was important to us and let the other stuff fall by the wayside.

4) Make special time for yourself and your significant other.  There is so much emphasis on family this time of year.  That is such a wonderful thing.  I love being together with my family and close friends.  Sometimes we forget that we need time for ourselves that does not include Christmas shopping or planning Christmas magic for our family.  Take some time for yourself to relax and enjoy the sights and smells of the season.  Take time with your spouse to be together without throngs of people around.  It will make a big difference.
5) Be grateful.  Being grateful always grounds me to be content and joyful.  Especially at this time of year I love to keep a daily gratitude journal.  It helps keep me centered on what I already have instead of what I need or want as gifts from other people.  Everyday take an inventory of the blessings you have in your life.  It will create a wonderful perspective for the season.
Good luck!  Hopefully as you create and maintain some good boundaries this year your holiday season will be less stressful and more enjoyable.
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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Getting an Accurate Diagnosis

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a topic that comes up frequently throughout my week; as a school psychologist in an elementary school, teachers often refer students for suspected problems with attention and concentration, hyperactivity, and impulse control difficulties. In my outpatient practice, I’m on the ‘other side’ of this equation, meeting with families often referred from school teams for suspected problems of this nature. Typically, these referrals seem appropriate and everyone is on the same page. Occasionally, the members are not. As in, ‘my child’s teacher told me my child has ADD and needed accommodations! Now what?!’ It gave me pause and consideration for this weeks blog.  Just who can and can’t diagnosis ADHD ? What might an assessment for ADHD include? Should school staff be bringing this subject up to parents to begin with? And, is it ADD or ADHD ?

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