3 Steps To Helping Your Child Understand And Process Grief

Grief is devastating for anyone.

As an adult, you have an advantage in grieving. That advantage is your brain development.

All things being equal, by the time your brain is fully developed (around age 25) you have learned how to process grief. If you haven’t encountered grief before, hopefully you have learned to seek help in processing your grief.

Children’s Brains Struggle To Process Grief

For a child, the lack of brain development means that processing grief is very difficult.

For an undeveloped brain, comprehending death and the existential issues around it, is extremely difficult. Adults struggle with this. So children will struggle even more without the tools yet to be developed to help them.

Grief In Children Resurfaces At Each Developmental Stage.

The younger the child, the more undeveloped will be their ability to process their grief. It is now known that grief in children will resurface at different stages in their childhood and even into adult life.

It is important to be aware of these difficulties and be ready to support your child.

The developing brain is learning. That is how the brain develops. But without support, the brain cannot learn. The brain needs to learn how to process Grief.

Attending To The Trauma Of Grief

Grief is a trauma. It is dysregulating. A child experiencing grief will be thrown into a major fight/flight/freeze stress response. They will also lose their connection to others and feel very isolated and alone.

Many people think they just have to sit their child down and talk to them and that will help. But a dysregulated brain can’t learn or reason so talking to a child in this situation will not work.

The 3 Steps

There are 3 steps to reaching your child and helping them to learn how to process their grief.

The steps are as follows:

Step 1. Regulate

The first thing you need to do with your child is help them regulate their fight/flight/freeze response and become calmer.

One of the best ways to do this is to be as calm as you can. Research has shown that children cope well with traumatic events when their parents remain relatively calm and can maintain as much as possible regular routines. The main thing is that your child feels safe. They need to feel that you can still protect them. In a world that has just fallen apart with the loss of someone important, knowing you are still there is vital.

Do the best you can

Obviously, if you are grieving as well, it is going to be hard to regulate yourself. You are likely to be crying and finding it hard to focus.

This is the pain of parenting. There are times when you have to put your own needs aside to attend to the needs of your children. It is natural for you to do that, and it may be necessary. But don’t put off attending to your own needs for long. It is okay to be crying when you seek to regulate your child.

After all, your child needs to see you grieving to learn it is okay to be sad and cry, but life still goes on.

One of the best ways to regulate is to hold your child. That helps them to feel safe and also gives you a sense of safety as well.

Step 2. Relate

Holding your child is part of the next step as well.

You help your child to regulate, to feel safer and still cared for.

Now you help them by establishing a connection. Holding your child will help them feel connected to you. This will mean they feel less isolated and alone.

Being Attuned To Your Child

Relating also involved being attuned to your child and their needs. It means you will stop and seek to understand what your child is thinking and feeling. Depending on their age, this may involve (when appropriate) making a general statement such as:

“It is really sad and frightening that x has died.”

This would work best for a young child who may still be learning to understand their emotions. Acknowledging what you sense they are experiencing helps them to feel understood.

For an older child you may ask them what they are feeling. Or you may wonder if they are feeling sad because you are.

It is important to not hide your feelings and allow your child to see you are sad too but that your sadness won’t stop you caring for them.

Be Attuned For A Long Time

Remember that I earlier mentioned that grief in children takes longer and is revisited at each developmental stage.

It is important to keep that in mind. Even after the initial period of adjustment to death your child will continue to grieve.

Always make sure you seek to understand your child. This maintains a connection between the two of you and is also comforting for your child. An attuned parent is one who provides safety and security. Something all children need, but grieving children need it more.

Step 3. Reason

Once your child is regulated and secure in their relationship with you, you can then reason with them.

You can support your child to express their feelings should they want to. You can support your child according to their developmental stage to reflect, learn, remember, articulate and learn how to live with their loss.

How Do I Support My Child To Learn?

There are many aids you can use to help you support your child through their grief. These aids will help them to learn healthy ways of processing grief. This will serve them well now and in later life with other losses.

There are many age-appropriate books you can read to your child. Your local library is a good source of these. If you send your child to a counsellor many will have these resources as well. I have a range of books I use with younger children.

For teenagers, who are already exploring the more existential issues of life as part of their teen development, a more existential approach that emphasises philosophical discussions mixed with some helpful facts about grief and its impacts is really helpful.

Can I Help?

Sometimes you and/or your child/ren will need help from a grief trained counsellor. It can be very helpful to learn what is normal in grieving both for yourself and your child. If you need help, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please
click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

What is Prolonged Grief Disorder and Do I Have It?

If you have ever experienced the loss of someone or something that was important to you, then you will know that grieving a loss is never simple.

For starters, grief hurts. A lot.

You will think your pain is settling down then something will trigger a memory and you are caught up in that pain again.

There will always be pain.

There will never be a time that it doesn’t hurt.

But for most people you learn to live with that pain and still function.

It is when grief continues and you can’t function well that grief can be considered to have become stuck and may need help to be able to function well in life.

This is what is known as Prolonged Grief Disorder.

Who Gets Prolonged Grief Disorder?

Anyone can suffer from Prolonged Grief Disorder.

Some people are more vulnerable to being affected this way. If you were particularly close to the person you are grieving, you will be more likely to be affected.

If you suffered from depression before experiencing this grief that may make you more susceptible.

If the death was sudden, traumatic or due to suicide it can also be more likely to happen.

It is important to acknowledge that Prolonged Grief Disorder is not just something that happens when someone dies, it can also happen with a job loss, the loss of a house, the loss of a country, the loss of a body part, the loss of a relationship, and so on.

Is There Anything I Can Do To Prevent This Happening?

It is really important that you give yourself space to acknowledge what has happened and allow yourself time to experience those feelings.

Don’t be pressured by other people to “get over it”. Don’t allow the expectations of others to force you to push your feelings aside and not process them.

Do recognise you will hurt for a long time. It is likely that before you are finished the worst part of grieving you will be fed up with being so sad. That is a good sign. It means you are getting ready to learn how to live with this pain.

Be willing to get help. See a counsellor, join a support group, use the support of understanding friends and family. Be prepared to experience your grief.

How Do I Know If I Have Prolonged Grief Disorder?

The first thing to remember is that no attempt is made to diagnose Prolonged Grief Disorder until at least 12 months has elapsed since your bereavement.

I have had people come to see me who are struggling to process the death of a loved one over a year ago, but then tell me another close family member only died a few months ago. If you have two major bereavements that close together, expect to be dramatically affected. You are not suffering from Prolonged Grief Disorder. You most likely need support, but you are not suffering from Prolonged Grief Disorder.

This is the criteria for an official diagnosis of Prolonged Grief Disorder:

• The bereavement occurred at least 12 months ago.

• You need the above plus at least three of the points below.

• You have lost your sense of who you are,

• You struggle to believe the person is dead,

• You avoid reminders that the person is dead,

• You are still experiencing intense emotional pain (sorrow, anger, bitterness for example) related to the death,

• You are having trouble getting back to work or social involvement,

• You feel emotionally numb,

• You feel your life is meaningless,

• You feel intensely lonely or feel totally detached from life.

If you feel this may be you then it is helpful to see a specialist grief counsellor.

What About My Children?

Children will grieve differently to adults. How they grieve will depend on their developmental stage and each new developmental stage will include a new period of processing more grief.

Another issue for children is the reaching of life stages where the one who has died may have been expected to be present. This is a fresh reminder of their absence and will include a new period of processing more grief.

Teenagers are included in this as their brains are still developing.

What you may see in children is:

• They may wait for their loved one to come back. This is particularly so with small children who have trouble understanding the concept of death.

• They may be frightened other people in their life may die too. With the death of someone in their life their sense of safety is disrupted and will take time and possibly assistance to regain.

• They may develop separation anxiety and not want other people to be away from them.

• They may think they just have to complete some task in order for their loved one to be alive again. This is known as magical thinking. Children can find it hard to understand that things happen in life and they cannot control them.

• Acting out behaviours that may not appear to be related to the loss. You may expect your child to cry or be sad. But what if they become angry and combative? Or they adopt destructive behaviours? Or they act like they don’t care about anything? There are many different behaviours you may see as your child tries to process these unfamiliar and overwhelming emotions.

If your child/teen is exhibiting behaviour that may suggest they are not coping with their loss it is helpful to arrange an appointment with a specialist child counsellor. Later teens are okay with a specialist grief counsellor but I would recommend a specialist for your younger children.

How To Treat Prolonged Grief Disorder.

There are many different therapies that work well with Prolonged Grief Disorder. In my work I use talk therapy, sand play, painting, movement, journalling, writing, poetry, therapeutic cards to name a few.

Please note that there is no medication treatment for this disorder. You need to process what has happened and medications do not facilitate that.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, whether prolonged or not, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

10 Animated Movies That Can Help You Teach Your Child About Grief

I often have parents ask me how to teach their child about grief. They may have a family member dying and they are trying to determine how to prepare their child for death. Or they may have had a family member die and they are trying to help their child understand and process grief.

Death is a major existential event in life. The first time you experience death you are faced with the existential aspects of death. What is it? What does it mean? How does it impact me? What is different in my life? Life isn’t safe anymore. What happens when you die? And so on.

What children need to learn about grief

Children need to learn about death and what it means. They also need to learn about grief.

After all, grief is not just over the death of someone.

Grief is experienced when you experience any loss. It may be the death of someone. Or it may be losing a much loved soft toy. Moving and losing the comfortable home and neighbourhood you felt safe in. Losing a friend, a job, a pet. There are more losses than I can list here.

It is natural to grieve. It is important to grieve. Without grief you cannot heal from the losses you experience in life.
Sub heading Teaching your child about grief

There are many books about grief that can be read to children. There are also a number of movies that children can see. I am going to focus on the animated ones as children often relate to the animated movies better, especially if they are very young.

Here is a list of movies that are recommended as great ones to watch with your child. It is important that you discuss the issues in these movies afterwards. They provide good thoughts that your child can ponder and you can talk about together.

When you talk to your child don’t make it formal. Be relaxed and share what you felt about the movie. You might say how you felt at a particular event in the movie and leave it open for your child to share their feelings and ask questions.

It is important to remember that you teach your children how to grieve. If you can manage grief with openness and compassion, then your child will learn that it is okay to express your feelings and be kind to yourself when grieving. Your child can learn not to suppress what they are feeling and instead accept and embrace those feelings.

1. Charlotte’s Web

This is the original animation of Charlotte’s Web released in 1973. There has been a more recent live action remake, but I am using here the animation. This movie is a lovely gentle movie that is easy to watch and understand concepts presented in the film.

If you don’t know this movie, it is about a girl called Fern who saves a piglet that was the runt of the litter. She feeds him and looks after him and he grows big. He becomes a friend to her. When Wilbur gets too big, he is put in an outside pen where Fern visits him. He is frightened and makes friends with a spider called Charlotte. Wilbur hears that he must be slaughtered for meat. This is terrifying for Wilbur and Charlotte helps him by spinning words into her web. This gets the attention of people who come to visit the farm. Wilbur becomes more valuable alive so his life is safe.

However, Charlotte is a spider and they don’t live long so Wilbur loses Charlotte and grieves her death. But Charlotte has left behind an egg case so Wilbur soon has new friends in Charlotte’s children.

This film introduces the idea that the people we love die. This allows a discussion on death as a general concept. It also allows a discussion on the sadness when someone you love dies and the fact that life goes on and there can be good things happening after someone you love dies.

2. Big Hero 6

In this movie Hiro is a budding robotic scientist. His brother Tadashi is killed in a fire. In the aftermath of Tadashi’s death, Hiro shuts himself off from his friends and family. Eventually he starts to explore what happened to his brother and asks his friends and family for help.

As he investigates his brother’s death, Hiro becomes angry and seeks revenge on the person who started the fire. Eventually he realises that is not the answer and lets go of the need to assign blame and seek revenge.

This is a wonderful movie to show how many emotions are experienced in grief. It also covers the way many people isolate in the early stages of grief. Hiro’s journey from isolating himself, to starting to look outward, to asking friends for help, to wanting someone to pay for his brother’s death and eventually to finding a new purpose in his life is a wonderful example of a grief journey. The new purpose Hiro discovers in his life is what is commonly described as the meaning Hiro discovers in his brother’s death. A meaning he can then use to build his life moving forward.

3. Onward

This lovely movie is about a boy whose father died when he was too young to get to know him. Ian is the boy and we start his story on his 16th birthday.

Ian is given a magic wand that will allow him to spend one day with his father and he sets out of find the crystal he needs to operate it. He enlists the help of his brother Barley. Both boys are hurting over the death of their father. Ian hurts because he never knew his father. Barley hurts because he never got to say goodbye.

As the brother’s seek the crystal and the meeting with their father, they discover each other and the needs each has. They realise they can support each other in their grief.

This movie is wonderful to show how the death of a parent lasts throughout childhood and life. It also shows how important it is for families to reach out to each other and offer much needed support to each other.

4. Up

This beautiful movie is often remembered for the talking dog and its comic wandering thoughts about squirrels. But behind this humour this is a beautiful love story.

In this movie we meet Carl. He is an old man whose wife, Ellie, has died. He lives in their home, isolating himself from the world he used to love. In his sadness he becomes bitter and unpleasant to other people. He remains in the house, reliving in his mind all the moments he and Ellie had together.

His house sits in the middle of a new development. Carl has refused to sell his home, but the developer has an idea. They claim Carl should be in a nursing home and he is about to become evicted.

Carl doesn’t want this and he attaches thousands of balloons to his house so it will float and he can visit a place he and Ellie dreamed of visiting.

Unintentionally a young boy, Russel, is in the house when it floats away.

Over time Carl warms to Russel and the things they do together help him to reach out to another human being. He learns to love again and engage with life. He is finally able to move on with his life.

This movie is a great illustration of the importance of allowing healing and the dangers of holding on too tight to grief.

5. Brother Bear

Kenai’s brother is killed by a bear. Kenai believes he was responsible for his brother’s death. He finds himself unable to face this so he turns his anger onto the bear and kills it.

He is then turned into a bear and discovers the dead bear’s cub. The cub helps him find the place he needs to visit to be returned to human form. As he journeys with this young cub he learns to love and care for it.

Kenai’s other brother, believing both his brothers have been killed by bears, sets out to hunt down the bear to kill it.

Eventually the two brothers let go of the desire for revenge, they learn to forgive, and they learn how to reach out to others for help.

Kenai makes a decision at the end to stay and care for the bear cub and the brothers resolve their differences.

This movie shows the dangers of revenge and how it is often hiding guilt. It shows the importance again of sitting with grief and allowing it to unfold. It also shows the importance of reaching out to each other in grief.

Forgiveness is another theme that is presented in this movie.

Sometimes, when someone is killed in an accident, or by another person/animal, revenge takes on a great importance. It is helpful to see in this movie how revenge is not the answer. Kenai looking after the bear cub is able to see the bear’s perspective and understand her actions more.

Kenai also learns to let go of his guilt and forgive himself and the bear.

There are a lot of emotions present when processing grief, and anger, desire for revenge and the need for forgiveness are powerful ones that frequently show up.

6. Kung Fu Panda 2

This is the story of Po, a panda who has become Dragon Warrior and protector of the Valley of Peace. His antagonist in this story is Lord Shen who has sworn a vendetta against Pandas and, after being banished by his parents, is now waging war against China.
Po lost his parents in the Panda massacre Shen instigated and he still grieves for them. He doesn’t remember what happened and this haunts him.

Shen is grieving the rejection by his parents. He has allowed his hurt to become anger that has been turned into a desire for revenge.
Po directs his grief into more positive pursuits. He accepts his pain but, instead of living in the past, he focuses on the present. This allows him to grow from the trauma of losing his parents.

Shen did not accept his pain. He tries to defeat his pain instead of accepting it and focusing on the present. As a result, he is not able to grow and move forward in life. Instead he is trapped in anger and revenge. He seeks to conquer all of China to overcome the pain he feels. His conquests, instead of bringing him peace, only exacerbate his pain.

Shen’s anger destroys him. Whereas Po’s acceptance and willingness to sit with the pain and accept it allows him to grow.
These are important things to discuss with your child.

7. The Land Before Time

In this gentle movie, Littlefoot’s mother is killed by other dinosaurs. Much time is allocated to showing how Littlefoot grieves for his mother. In time another dinosaur, Rooter, comes and offers Littlefoot comfort.

This beautiful movie shows children the grief at losing a parent, which is important. It also shows the processing of that grief allowing a time when it doesn’t hurt as badly. But it also shows children how comfort can be found in the support of other people and sends a message about the importance of accepting help from others.

8. The Lion King

The 1994 movie is the one to watch, not the recent live action film.

Simba is distraught when his father is killed in a stampede. He believes he is to blame for his father’s death and he runs away. He grows up and adopts a lifestyle where he doesn’t care for anything and avoids the past.

When he is asked to come back to help his family defeat their enemy Simba refuses. His grief has not only impacted on him, but also on the rest of his family.

Eventually Simba is able to put his guilt aside and return to liberate his family from the enemy. In the process he learns he was not responsible for his father’s death. He is able to let go of his guilt and use his grief to honour his father.
Children will often take on the blame for the death of someone close to them. It is important as parents to be aware of that possibility and include that in discussions with your child.

This movie is great for discussing the impact guilt has on grief, that running away from grief doesn’t make it go away, and that no one grieves in isolation. The grief one feels impacts on others as well.

9. Inside Out

This movie has been much loved for its handling of the emotions Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust.

But there is another side to this movie. It is about the grief the girl Riley experiences when her family moves away from her happy community to a major city.

Instead of allowing Riley to experience the pain of the loss, Joy tries to bury it. This is something people do so often with grief. This movie shows the ramifications of trying to push away grief instead of processing it.

Because the movie uses the emotions to show Riley’s thoughts, it is great for showing how many different emotions are involved in each memory. Even the happy moments in life have sadness in them.

The movie also demonstrates the importance of reaching out to others for comfort and reaching out to comfort others.

10. Frozen

If we look beyond the passion many young children have shown for this movie and the much played theme song, there is a very important message in this movie.

This movie is about unresolved grief and suppressed emotions.

Elsa’s emotions are demonstrated in her power over ice. As a child, when she is still learning to control her emotions, her ice creating happens often. Her parents are frightened of this and force her to suppress her emotions. She becomes expert at suppressing her emotions, but this also causes separation between her and her sister Anna.

Then their parents die and Elsa becomes isolated from everyone.

This suppression of her emotions causes the icing over of the kingdom. This is a powerful metaphor for the impact suppressed emotions have on you and those around you. So often people suppress their emotions out of fear of feeling them, or what will happen to their behaviour when they feel them.

But emotions need to be experienced in order to resolve them. When you allow yourself to feel emotions you become better able to control your reaction to them and express them in a healthy, helpful way.

So many people are taught to suppress their emotions, including grief. Fear is a driving force behind that suppression. Suppressing emotions can also lead to isolation from others.

This is what happened to Elsa.

The freezing of the kingdom is only resolved when Elsa learns not to isolate herself from her others and learns to not be afraid to experience her grief.

Can I Help?

Teaching your child about grief means you have to confront your own issues around grief and death. That can be hard. Sometimes you need help to give you the tools and resilience to take your child on this journey. There may be unresolved issues from your past that need to be processed to allow you to be present for your child.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with grief and loss, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

How to reduce relocation trauma for your child

For 8 years of my children’s childhood my family lived as expats. They had to move to a non English speaking country and attend an international school that was British based. They had to cope with the isolation of not speaking the local language, the multiple strange British accents in the school they attended, a different culture (yes British culture is very different to Australian culture), a different way of teaching and so much more. My older two children moved from primary to high school, but my youngest two changed primary school and then went on to High School. That was a lot of change for them.

Returning to Australia was not easy. They had to negotiate a different school system and children raised in a monoculture, when they had been raised in a multicultural setting. Not surprisingly my school age children made friends with the foreign children in the Australian school.

My children managed this transition. They were helped by the International School being one where there were always new students, so there was more openness to make friends. When they returned to Australia they attended a school which was expanding and meant there were many new students joining with them. They all made friends and the older ones got after school jobs. They settled very quickly.

Children can find moving difficult

Not all children, however, find the move to a new area and new school is easy.

Often there is a focus from parents on the positive benefits of the move. I know that is what I did. Other parents I have spoken to also focus on the positives. If the move is the result of a conscious decision to move then the parents will be enthusiastic about it.

But it is not always easy for children to make that move.

New schools can be traumatising

In fact, children can be traumatised by the move and that trauma most often happens in school.

The best parents in the world who have prepared their children well for the move can still find one or more of their children are traumatised by that move.

The trauma lasts into adulthood

Many adults who come to see me about their past moving traumas will report the difficulties of moving to a new area, leaving behind their friends and everything familiar, and having trouble settling in to their new school and establishing friendships.

The losses and grief of moving

Moving to a new area is exciting for everyone, especially the adults who made the decision to move. But there are many losses involved in moving. These losses will be felt by the parents as well as the children.

How to help your child through these losses

Acknowledging those losses and allowing them to be expressed is important. Giving your child a hug and telling them they will make friends soon is not what they need. What they need is to know you have heard them.

It is important to acknowledge verbally that your children are sad they have left their best friend behind, or the activities they used to do, or the lovely tree they sat in when they needed a reset. It is also important that you are silent to allow them to talk if they want to.

You can’t and shouldn’t fix their grief. But you can allow space for it to be there, for it to be acknowledged, and for them to express what they need to express. Your child’s grief at what they have left behind is not a judgement on you, it is a normal part of change.

You grieve too

If you are honest, there are things you miss too. Maybe you already grieved for those things too but did it as part of the process of making the decision to move. Children may not developmentally be able to grieve in advance. Nor did they make the decision to move. It makes a difference to how they grieve.

The pattern of adjustment when you move

In the last 25 years I have moved a lot. What I came to understand, and observe in myself is that there are phases of adjustment you go through when you move to a new area.

At first it is exciting and new. There are definitely areas of uncertainty and stress. But there are also areas of excitement and the thrill of things that are new and novel.

After a few months that excitement wears off and you are left trying to manage in a new area where you have to work harder to meet your needs and those of your family. That is when the sadness can creep in. And the comparisons with the old life you had.

Eventually you will settle in and find a new rhythm. You may always miss things about where you were before, but you will have worked out ways to meet your needs and be okay with that.

Warning: Be careful what you say to your children

Be careful of what you say in your children’s hearing when you reach that sad/comparison stage. I have seen many children who were managing the move relatively well but then had to listen to one or both parents express how much they hated living in the new location.

Remember, when you reach the sad stage, so will your children. Research has shown that children will cope better with change when their parents are coping. So it is important that you give your children the security of feeling safe because you are managing this.

You can do this by resisting the temptation to criticise and express the wish to return to your old location. Instead be honest about the fact you weren’t able to do something or you missed someone but also instil hope in that statement. Maybe you can say that it is hard to find everything in a new location but you will work it out.

Being open about your difficulties gives your children permission to be more open about their own.

Take time to sit and listen to your children

Stopping to talk to each one of your children about how they are managing is also important.

Allowing them to not be happy about the move is important. Remember, this is not a judgement on you. I have known families who have made decisions their children were not happy with. They have allowed the children to express their unhappiness and supported them. Many of those children have shared later in life that they settled and loved their new life. They just needed time to form new networks and find their place.

Some children will cope. Others will not

It is also important to remember that some children in the family may cope well with a move and others may not. This may be as simple as the type of children in their year at school.

The child who did not fit in

One adult I saw recently moved towards the end of primary school. She had very supportive friendship networks where she had lived. She had grown up with these friends and they all went to the same school, living in close proximity to each other so that they could just wander from house to house whenever they wanted to.

In the new location there were no networks of friends she had known all her life. There was no way to just pop to a friend’s house. She was isolated in the new home.

Her brothers were into sport and quickly found sporting teams and made friends. Her sisters were teenagers and had the confidence to slip into the friendship groups in their years at school.

But this adult, then a shy 10 year old, found it harder to fit in. She was at the start of puberty and still trying to work out who she was. In her old location her friends knew her well and accepted her. But she was trying to fit in with new children who did not know her. They were not as accepting.

Her sisters were at high school and her brothers were off pursuing sport so she was very alone at school.

As often happens when a child does not fit in she was bullied. That made it even harder for her to make friends.

Her parents thought her unhappiness was something that would pass. They had busy lives and did not take the time to sit with her and understand she was being bullied. They brushed over her difficulties.

This adult told me how she had felt really self confident when she moved. Over the ensuing years her confidence in herself and her ability to make friends nose dived. For her the move had been very traumatic and had resulted in lasting impacts on her life.

She also found her relationship with her family was impacted. She had felt unsupported and over looked. She felt her parents could have done a lot more to support her and her siblings could have paused occasionally to offer words of support and comfort.

Her life has been impacted to the extent that as an adult she is still needing to work through the trauma of that move.

She has little contact with her siblings and her relationship with her parents has been strained. She has communicated to her parents what happened to her as a child and they have acknowledged the damage done to her, but the years of trauma have been difficult to overcome and their relationship has never recovered.

Plan your move to allow support for your children

Moving is often necessary. But there are ways you can help your children cope. These ways were discussed in the blog. The most important one is to remember to always be available to sit and listen to your children. Don’t assume that everything is okay.

It is important to reach out for help if you are not coping with your move. Remember, if you are finding it hard to cope then be willing to reach out for help.

If your children are struggling, then reach out for help.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you or your children with your move, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

Seasons of Grief

You sit in your grief
It is as though an icy reminder of winter has invaded the autumn
You suddenly find yourself in.

You sit in the icy numbness.
Then the numbness passes.

And you are tossed around by the autumn winds
Blowing their cold breath
Causing all to hunch forward and rush to shelter.
Leaving you alone in your grief.

You stand there
In the midst of the swirling leaves
Reds, oranges, yellows and brown.
Echoing your own swirling emotions
And you long for the time when you felt only numbness.

Then you sighed
And settled in for the long haul of the winter of your grief.
The days when it was icy and still.
When snow muffled every sound
And the world seemed deserted.

Just you and your pain.

As you stood on the edge of the ocean.
Antarctic blast hitting you with its icy needles
The waves whipped to a frenzy by winter storms
You remembered that all healing comes in waves.

The intensity varies.
Sometimes you can feel almost normal.
Other times you feel like you can’t go on.
You are out there in the white caps

And then you realise you will heal
You look around and notice the gradual budding of leaves at the ends of branches.
You look at the ground as tiny flowers emerge from their bulbs.

The wind comes warm and you dance in the beauty of it.
Then the wind blows cold and you are back in the thundering waves

Be okay to feel what you are feeling.
To feel those exhilarating days of warm breezes
And those terrifying days of drowning.

Allow it to take time.
Don’t rush.

You will be fed up with grief
Long before it is finished with you.

Allow the pain.
In that pain is growth.
In that pain is the way to learn how to live with your loss.

A day will come when you will stand on the edge of the ocean
The sun will dance on the gentle waves
A warm wind will gently caress you
And you will feel at peace.

Nan Cameron 24/7/2023

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

So You Think You Are Going Mad? What Can You Expect From Grieving?

There are assumptions about the experience of grief which are wrong and leave people feeling there is something wrong with them. When people reach out to others they are often met with ignorance around their feelings being part of grief. Even professionals can get it wrong.

When I run grief and loss groups, one of the first things I do is to encourage participants to share their experience of grief. For me, when I first attended a grief and loss group many years ago, it was a revelation how many of the things I experienced were well known grief experiences. For the first time in many years I realised I wasn’t mad!

I want other people to realise they are not mad either.

Below is a list of the experiences participants have shared over the years. The participants range in age from 10 to 90. It is important to remember that our experience of grief will change depending on the life stage we are in. So a 10 year old will experience things differently to a 90 year old.

How many of the things on this list have you experienced? Do you have anything to add? If you go to my facebook page Plentiful Life Exploration you can add your own words. The page can be accessed here: (1) Plentiful Life Exploration | Facebook (you will need to join the group to respond).

Below is my list. I would love to hear about your experiences:

Feeling sick
Voices and visions
Low energy
Keeping Busy
Going crazy
Guilt and regrets
Emotional outbursts
I don’t know how to feel
Lost sense of self.
Can’t stop crying
Embarrassed at crying in public
Lost meaning in life
Unable to cope with everything
lack of concentration
day dreaming
inability to fulfill a grief expectation such as:
can’t cry when I should, can’t cry when I want, laugh when I should be sad
inappropriate laughter
Regression to earlier life stage
Problems with transition from primary secondary or secondary tertiary education
Opposing pressures – family; society; peer group
Conflict : parents, teachers
Loss of childhood role
Body image
Concern for future
Awareness of reality and personal limitations
Concern about popularity
Fear of ridicule
Lack of confidence
Relationship breakdown
Academic performance
Drug & alcohol concerns
Eating disorders
Concern for environment, planet
delinquency, anti-social behaviour
work deterioration in school

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

Why Children and Adolescents Need Counselling After Divorce: Understanding the Importance of Emotional Support in the Face of Family Breakdown

Recently, an inquest opened into the death of an adolescent girl who had killed herself after a long battle with anxiety and depression. This tragedy plays itself out throughout the world every day. In his opening statement, the father of the girl spoke to the court because he felt it was important the court understood that his daughter’s mental health issues stemmed from the breakup of her parents when she was 6. He identified the split as being severely traumatising. This breakup of the girl’s parents had such far-reaching consequences, that its impact was still experienced by her 9 years later.

In this blog I will be discussing the effect one of the common losses of children, separation of parents, has on children and adolescents. I will be referring to children and adolescents as children.


Years ago I worked in a variety store on the checkout. One day a boy of about 12 walked out past my customers. I stopped him and asked to check his backpack.

His reaction to this was extraordinary and upsetting. He sat down on the floor, against the wall, and put his bag down. The look on his face was one of utter desolation. Here was a small child who was really frightened but also who felt extremely alone.

That was really upsetting for me.

The boy had packed his bag full of stolen items.

The police were called and the boy was taken away.


I learned that his parents had recently separated and his father had a new girlfriend. Since the breakup of his parent’s marriage, the boy had been involved in many acts of vandalism and angry behaviour.

To the other staff, this boy was just some troublemaker who no one should feel sorry for. He was obviously just bad.

To me this boy was a child whose life had been turned upside down by destruction of his secure world and he was acting out his feelings.


For adults in the middle of a relationship breakdown, it is an incredibly painful time. There is often little enough energy for each individual to attend to his or her own needs in this terrible loss. There is rarely any energy available for the children of this relationship.

This doesn’t mean the parents are horrible people. They love their children and care deeply about them. But they are struggling to cope with what has happened.


Attending to the needs of the children in this is hard. From a child’s perspective things are very frightening. Security is the most important need of a child. A child needs to know its parents are there to ensure its survival. If the parents are not there, who will ensure the child’s survival?

Parental separation takes a child’s entire understanding of safety and destroys it. For the child caught up in the breakdown of his parent’s marriage, there is no safety. It is hard for parents in this situation to reassure the child. Sadly the child can become the pawn in the breakdown, as each parent seeks to punish the other through access to the child.


Sometimes, the parent who leaves will, for a variety of reasons, reduce or completely cut off contact with the child. This is a terribly hurtful for the child. The child does not understand the adult world. What the child understands is that Mum and Dad are not together anymore and that one parent does not want to have anything to do with him anymore.

The child sees a future that is very uncertain.


Often children will talk about having to move away from their home and perhaps give away family pets which they cannot take with them to their new rental home.

Children will talk about never hearing from one parent and not always understanding why.


Parents can be reckless in the words used to the child and tell the child negative things about the other parent. This is not fair to the child. That other parent is their parent too. The child loves them and identifies with them. Sometimes, what is being criticised in the other parent is something the child does. So where does that leave the child? Does that mean the parent rejects him as well?


The Family Law Courts, in the desire to ensure both parents have equal access to children, can cause damage to children. For a child, the security of the family home is replaced by the insecurity of two non-homes. The child spends part of the week in one house, but it never has everything the child owns there. The other part of the week is spent in another house which also never has everything the child owns in it.
The child wakes in the night and has to ask “which house am I in?” “I need to pee, where is the bathroom?”.


For a number of children, one of the houses they live in contains a new partner and possibly children who may live there full time.

Can you imagine how difficult it is to fit into a house like that?

The child is there part time, the rest of the people in the house are there full time. How does the child fit in to that? All the love and the will in the world is not going to compensate for that lack of belonging and hence safety.


As was seen in my story of the 12 year old shoplifter, many children act out their feelings. But others internalise them.

Adults look at the children and, because they seem to be happy, think they have accepted what has happened. That they have ‘gotten over it’. But this is not true. Children suffer because what has happened to them is too great for a child to process without help.


Parents involved in the grief of the end of a relationship are not in a position to help the child. This is where counselling and grief and loss programs are really helpful to assist children in this situation to be able to express feelings in a healthy way before the grief and loss feelings develop into long term problems.
The sad story of the adolescent girl could have been prevented if she had been able to access counselling as a 6 year old.


If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you or your children with your relationship breakdown, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

Ways Children Grieve Differently

There is a general lack of understanding around how children grieve.

People expect children to grieve the same way adults do. For that reason, when the child is seen to happily play it is assumed they have “gotten over” the death of their loved one.

But this is not so.


Many adults consider grief the enemy to fight, and therapy to support people in that situation often aims to help people see grief differently. However, with children, unresolved grief is the enemy. Why? Let me explain.


How a child grieves is determined by a number of factors:

• Their developmental stage,

• Their age,

• How the loved one died,

• What they have already experienced in life, and

• How they see grief modelled by the adults around them.

Researchers have observed that children move in and out of grief. They also need to handle their grief in small periods of time and intensity.


One of the main reasons children grieve this way is to do with their brain development and the coping skills they have developed.

Children’s brains develop the ability to cope with overwhelming emotions in stages. Initially they need a lot of shared soothing from caregivers. Over time, they learn to soothe themselves more and need less support. However, frightening events and highly emotional occasions still require a lot of assistance in shared soothing from caregivers.


Even adults cannot spend 24 hours a day grieving. Much as you may not want to think about anything other than your lost loved one, the reality is you do think about other things.

Just as the child needs breaks from the intensity of emotions, so do you the adult.

This is referred to as dual processing. You have grief to attend to, and you have life to attend to. So you work out a balance between the two. Children do the same, just in smaller doses that their brains allow.


The other thing that happens with children and grief is that the child will often reexperience that grief at different developmental stages. Don’t think that the child will be over the death after a few years. They will often reexperience their grief later in childhood and even into adulthood.

The general rule for children is that under the age of 4 the child will know someone is missing and miss them. They will know there is something wrong. They can’t however really understand what they are experiencing and why the loved one is not there anymore.


They will need lots of cuddles from trusted caregivers at the time. As they grow older they will have more questions and much more sadness as they understand more about death and the death of this loved person.


When the adults in the child’s life avoid talking about the grief, the child is unable to process the grief and it becomes unresolved grief. They will then often hide their feelings away.

You may see acting out behaviours, depression, anxiety, and disorganisation. You may see anger, often directed at you. These are often signs of unresolved grief that has been hidden away but now needs to be expressed and acknowledged.


Children don’t only experience grief at the time of their loved one’s death. They also experience this grief at different developmental stages in life. When someone else dies the grief over the previous grief will also be experienced. In fact, we all grieve for the current grief and any past ones that have happened.


One thing I have found when working with adults still trying to process the death of loved ones in their childhood, is that they were often not included in the death and aftermath of this loved adult. Often children were sent away to stay with relatives and did not see their loved one as they were dying. They are often not included in the funeral. So their opportunity to say goodbye is denied them.


Children can often feel the adults in their life do not want to talk about their loved one. So they lock away their feelings, which are expressed in other ways.

When a child is young when their loved one dies, they are often not able to express what they are feeling. Even if they are there to see their loved one as they are dying and attend the funeral, they will still experience the death differently as they grow up.


Children can also feel guilty about their loved one’s death and will hide that away out of fear the other adults in their life will reject them if they know.


One of the saddest things I have seen happen with children is when adults in their life tell them to look after their mother or father and be responsible. Children in that situation often feel they are not able to grieve for their loved one and must suddenly become adults responsible for the welfare of their parent/s.


Research has shown that children will grieve based on how their parents grieve. If adults are open and honest about their feelings and encourage their child to share theirs, with opportunities to comfort each other, then the child will feel more comfortable sharing their grief when it resurfaces.


If adults hide how they are feeling, thinking it is better for their children, the children can feel it is not okay to express their grief. A child will also hide their grief if the adults in their life don’t respond to their expression of grief and instead become extremely upset without acknowledging the child’s experience. Some of that hiding is due to fear of upsetting the adults in their life. Some is also due to the child forming the belief that their grief is not important. This will be particularly so when someone has told the child to look after their parent/s.


Children need adults who can openly and honestly discuss grief, how it is for them (in age appropriate language and content) and be open to asking the child how it is for them.


The first time a person encounters grief there is a massive existential shift needed to understand it. At any age, even in adulthood, people question what grief means. This is more so for children and their developmental stage will impact on how they explore that question. It is important to be open to answer any questions a child may have and to be prepared to have an age-appropriate conversation with the child if they wish to have one.

Don’t be afraid to name what led to the death of the loved one. For example, if the child’s grandfather died of cancer, you may explain that he had a sickness in his body that caused it to stop working. So that the child doesn’t worry that they may get that sickness too you can explain to them that they do not have the sickness and are well.


Children will often ask questions about where their loved one is. People have many different beliefs around death. I find children are particularly concerned that their loved one is with any pets they have lost, or with another loved one. They don’t want them to be alone. They may also want to know if they are still sick, in pain, scared, sad. Understanding that helps with responses around your beliefs.

One parent who brought their child to me spoke of having read the experiences of people who had near death experiences and used this to tell their child that their grandfather was in a very happy place with his parents and siblings and old friends, as well as the family guinea pig and dog.


Children are more open to express their feelings and understandings in play where the child may play out scenarios that help them process their loved one’s death. Allowing them to play and not shutting down their play can be really helpful to them. Reading age appropriate books about death are also very helpful. Drawing is another way children often express themselves.


Remember, it is most important to allow children the space and permission to grieve. Don’t force them to talk if they don’t want to, but model openness around your own grief journey and an openness to listen when they want to talk.

Do not make the loved one a taboo subject!

Be prepared for the grief to resurface at different developmental stages.

Get help if you feel your child is not coping with immediate or resurfaced grief.

Ensure you get help for your own grief needs.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you or your children with grief, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz