When working with a discouraged child, work to see them as a discouraged individual. Feeling discouraged isn’t just an emotion experienced by children, it is a very relatable feeling that adults often experience as well. Children, while developmentally less mature, are not experiencing something you lack the ability to empathize with. So lets start there! Empathy can soften even the most escalated situations. Now that we are going into this situation with empathy, explore how the four tips below could be implemented when you encounter a situation with your child who may be experiencing a moment of discouragement
1. How would you want someone to react to you if you were discouraged? Think back to a time when you last felt discouraged. How would you have like a loved one to respond to you? What would have felt good, comforting and supportive? Begin to respond to your child in a similar fashion.
2. How can you encourage the child to self-soothe and problem solve independently? Encourage your child to identify the state of discouragement and empower them to problem solve to help themselves to find relief and solutions.
3. Offer yourself as a resource but don’t insist on being one. When a child is discouraged it may be nice to know they are not alone and that you are there as a resource in their life to offer support when they feel they need it. You might say something like. “I can see you are discouraged right now. I know you are a great problem solver but if you need any help problem solving or if you just need a hug, I am here for you”
4. Acknowledge, validate and commend your child for overcoming a challenging emotional experience. When you see your child may be de-escalating, has successfully problem solved, or is just finding their way through feeling discouraged, acknowledge them and their emotional work. That might look something like this. “Wow, I could see that you were really discouraged and I bet that was tough, but you really handled that nicely and found a way to help yourself through it and/or coped with that discouragement really well. I am happy you are starting to feel better”
If you identify that you may have a child struggling beyond your and their ability to cope with everyday emotions it may be a great time to explore the idea of seeking professional support. A licensed therapist can support you and your child in exploring ways to cope with difficult emotions and emotional reactions. Connecting with a therapist during hard times can aid in coping strategies and building family skills!
Melanie works closely with children, teens and parents to develop healthy and positive coping strategies. If you would like to schedule a session with Melanie D. Davis, CMHC, NCC contact Wasatch Family Therapy at 801-944-4555
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”.