Helping Children and Teens through Loss

Parents often struggle with finding ways to help kids dealing with hard events that happen in life. This week our community lost another young life. Here is some advice for parents on how to help their kids through this difficult time. 1. Talk to your kids.  If a tragedy happens in a community then the whole community grieves.  Regardless of the age of your child, they will likely be exposed to this event in one way or another if they are a part of this community. Even if your child does not know the victim or family directly, the school, sports teams and anyone connected directly or indirectly are likely to have a reaction. It is not just the tragic loss of a young life that has happened. The loss of his life will ripple through the lives of our youth in ways that are too soon to understand. 2. Ask questions and listen.  What is your teen hearing at school, on the field or wherever else they hang out? What are your child’s thoughts on what happened? If you are listening you will hear the misinformation and more importantly be able to hear their fears. You will be better able to dispel disinformation and reassure fear if you keep your ears open and your mouth closed. 3. Let them know that they are safe. Kids and teens are just like adults. They need to feel safe. We often like to believe that bad things don’t happen to good people. When faced with the reality of life, we all are often shaken up. While it is important not to lie,... read more

The Grieving Helper

I haven’t blogged in a long time. The reason being is that I really struggled to find anything productive to say. It is hard when you are fighting your own inner battles to focus on things like writing. Every time I sat down to write I felt like a fraud and a hypocrite. Anything I wrote seemed glib and flat. Mostly I have been just putting one foot in front of the other trying to survive. There isn’t anything particularly inspirational about that. You see over the past year and a half I have been struggling with my own loss. My father died in November of cancer. He was diagnosed early and doctors were able to buy us a precious year and a half before the inevitable came.  That last year was an invaluable gift. We talked, we traveled and he helped tie up loose ends. His battle was brutal but not as brutal as some. While the struggle was long, the end came quick. I struggle to share this with you. Professionally there is only so much value in sharing my personal life. While my blog is personal in nature I try to walk a line between oversharing and being too clinical. While I was in the middle of the chaos the lines were blurred. Was I sharing for my own therapy or to help others?  It felt safer personally and professionally to remain quiet so I did. Also it didn’t always feel like my story to tell. My family members have a right to their privacy. My Dad was a private man and really didn’t want anyone... read more

The Red Wheelbarrow

In 1994 I was a different person, or so I thought.  I was young, naive and pretty headstrong. I got into the University of Alberta with mediocre marks thinking I didn’t belong. I was full of ideas but low on self-esteem and confidence. I was on the brink of adulthood with no plan, no map and no idea. I did have opinions, gumption and no filter. I was happy to voice an opinion without thinking through consequences, and hurt feelings. One thing I did know is that I wanted my English Professor to admit that not everything was full of metaphor and that it was not possible to write an eight page essay on a 16 word poem. It was hard to believe that “so much depends on a red wheelbarrow” or any other wheelbarrow for that matter. so much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens.  By William Carlos Williams Twenty-two years later I had barely thought of that class or the petite young professor with her long blonde hair perched on the table at the front of the room gracefully dodging the class’ criticism and negativity. I do however think often about the texts we read. I will never forget Frankenstein and its connection to the modern day question of humanity. I won’t forget the astonishment I had when reading Obasan and the realization that Canadians are just as guilty of human atrocities as other countries. Honestly, I think that book was the beginning of my passion for social justice. The spark of my feminist roots can also be traced... read more

Surviving Disaster: For the Survivors

As I watch from the safety of my home, I see images of my northern neighbours fleeing from the flames that threaten their homes, work and lives. It is a living nightmare. I can’t help but imagine what it would be like to have to pack up my family, pets, and all that I have worked for in a matter of minutes.  I can’t even begin to get my head around that. I have worked with people in crisis my whole career. Still the enormity of this crisis is unprecedented for me. Like many Albertans, I can only offer what I have to give and I offer it up willingly. Over the next couple of days I will write a series of blog posts on living through crisis in the hope that it will provide some guidance and reassurance to those it reaches. Here are some survival tips for the survivors: 1. Take care of the first thing first. In a crisis it is almost impossible to know where to start. Right now there is so much to do and so little ability to do anything. If you have heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, this is the time to use it.  Basically Maslow said that you need to deal with the basics of human functioning like food, shelter and water before you can even begin to deal with the bigger picture stuff like future planning, emotional release and recovery.  So make sure you have food and water. It is easy to get overwhelmed and forget to eat and drink but your body cannot function well unless it has the... read more

Surviving Disaster: For the Children

It is easy in the middle of chaos to become obsessed with the details and the talk of grown ups. After all there are important decisions to be made and critical choices to discuss. Most of these things are not appropriate for younger ears. It can needlessly worry and overwhelm them. Because we want to protect our kids from the big things, it is easy to forget to make sure that we also prioritize talking to them. When I think of the ongoing crisis happening in Fort McMurray, I think about the parents and how they are trying to help their children cope with the unimaginable. For what it’s worth, here are some tips I’ve learned through working with families in crisis on how to deal with kids in the middle of a disaster. 1. Talk to your kids. Remember everything to a child is big in a crisis.  This includes things as small as their favorite to toy to as big as their pets. Also the loss of routine, consistency and sense of safety will have big impacts. Here are some tips about talking with kids about a crisis: Speak to them directly. Don’t expect kids to pick up information from what is happening around them. They need to hear it from ideally their primary caregivers. They need to have the space and comfort to ask questions with your full attention. Be honest and factual.  Children and teens need to know they can come to you for the real answers and that you will tell them the truth. If you avoid talking about what happened, make up or gloss... read more

Saying “No!”

So I suffer from a classic problem, I am a pleaser and a fixer. I have a superhero cape that I keep folded up in my emotional closet. I put on that cape far too often and try to save the day. Usually this comes at great cost to myself.  Because you see, most people don’t want to be saved. The ones that like to be saved are like kryptonite. The trouble with this way of being in the world is that it is easy for me to get lost in the ever growing list of priorities. The needs of my children, spouse, extended family, my students and my clients often come before mine.  I will fight off other people’s villains without thinking about whether it is what they want or what they need me to be doing. Often I solve people’s problems that they didn’t know they had. If it goes unchecked, I get tired, emotionally spent and then I get angry and resentful. I have learned this lesson over and over again. I have done my own emotional work to try to resolve it. But if I am stressed, overworked or not taking care of myself, I fall back into the pattern. You see the issue is mine. No one intends to take advantage. No one is out to treat me badly. The people in my life are just trusting that I am doing what I do best. Either that or they are just busy with their own lives and own issues. The issue is my boundaries.  Sometimes I have to say “No”. It is not something... read more