Top strategies to help children grieve, cope, and recover after loss.
KATY MAGAZINE I October, 2017
By Katrina Katsarelis and Ashley Lancaster
Special Expert Contributor: Kathryn Feagins, Licensed Specialist in School Psychology (LSSP) Office of Psychological Services for Katy ISD.
With approximately 15,000 Katy students impacted by flooding and loss after Harvey, helping our children cope with loss and devastation is first and foremost on the minds of Katy parents right now. Here are some of the best strategies to start the journey of healing.
Set a calm, positive example
If you're an emotional wreck than your child is likely to feel the same way. "Children look to their parents and caregivers to set examples," says Feagins. "It’s important to reassure them that everything is going to be okay."
Keep normal routines
Whatever the children were doing before, keep those routines going. Have dinner together, go to karate practice, attend church, etc. Kids have had enough changes going on right now that normalcy and routine is refreshing for them. Feagins says most of the schools reported students actually being excited about getting back into school and getting in the routine of things.
Bring up the good things that have happened as a result of the hurricane. Maybe your family has gotten closer than before, or you've got to spend more time at Grandma's house, or perhaps your child made a new friend at school because of Harvey. Even little things will help kids see there is good on the horizon. "Focus on togetherness and pulling together," advises Feagins.
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Let them grieve
"At first children may be in shock or denial of losing their items, then they may feel angry and/or sad until they are able to accept the loss, says Feagins. She encourages parents to allow them to go through all these typical stages of the grief process.
Be approachable and ready to listen
Your life is upside down right now, but realize their lives are too. When they want to talk or have an opinion, set aside time to lend an ear. "Be approachable, warm, and listen when they need someone to talk to," says Feagins. Even if it's not flood related, children will need a lot of talking, listening, and nurturing right now to help them cope.
Promote positive coping skills
Feagins encourages parents to practice and promote positive and healthy coping skills. For example, playing games together, making arts and crafts, or even making lists of what they miss the most. Maybe set a new, fun tradition that you didn't have before Harvey that you do now, will help build happy new memories.
Treat it like a temporary adventure
Reminding kids that this is all temporary and that you'll all get through it together helps reassure them. Yes it is a big deal, but let them know their family is strong and will overcome this. You can also talk about their own strength. Tell them how kids who go through difficulties actually grow up to be better, stronger and more caring people than those who always have everything easy.
Watch your words
If you're using statements like, "we lost everything" or "we will never recover from this" your children may internalize those words. Better to speak unity and future plans. "What color would you like to paint your room at the new house?" Also be careful not to blame them for adding stress on you, which is a typical response from a stressed out parent. Things are very stressful for families right now, so be mindful not to get impatient and harsh.
They are not alone
When your children share sad feelings or emotions, let them know they are not alone. They not only have their family, but many other children are going through the same thing. Let them know those feelings are natural to have and many others are feeling the same way right now. "We try to ‘naturalize’ reactions, which means letting students know that their feelings and experiences are shared by others," explains Feagins.
Reach out to teachers if there are concerns
"I think it is important for parents to consider a variety of things when their child’s grades start to decline such as: are they getting enough sleep, have they always struggled, are they understanding the material, is it in all classes or just one subject area, and/or did their grades just start to decline after a major life change. Parents should always reach out to teachers if they have a concern and teachers will reach out to parents if they start to notice a change in grades and/or behavior. There are a number of factors to consider however it is always encouraged for home and school to collaborate on ways to help children."
WHEN TO GET PROFESSIONAL HELP
Feagins advises parents to watch for long-term sadness, crying, anxiety, confusion, attention seeking, irritability, poor concentration, physical complaints, withdrawal, and/or rebelliousness. She says that although the hurricane passed quickly, recovery is going to take a long time. "If reactions still persist past six months and changes are observed for example, in interactions with others, grades, interest in things that used to be pleasurable etc. then families should seek professional help."
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Katy Magazine would like to thank Katy ISD's Kathryn Feagins for helping with this story. Kathryn Feagins is a Licensed Specialist in School Psychology (LSSP) Office of Psychological Services and works at Creech Elementary.