Gone too Soon: When Teenagers Lose One of Their Own

Teenage GriefAdolescents and Grief

When teenagers experience the loss of a fellow student or teammate, it is a traumatic event felt throughout the community. Such traumatic events usually trigger an onslaught of emotions and reactions, but everybody handles these feelings differently. The way teenagers respond to the loss depends on many factors including the degree to which they knew the person who died, the manner in which that person died, their physical proximity to any accident or event related to the person’s death, their past experience with death or with losing a loved one, and an array of other personal factors unique to each teenager.

Grief and BereavementDespite individual differences, all grief is painful, and like all other pain, the first reaction may be a feeling of numbness as if one were in shock. While there are many common reactions to grief that may follow, there is no right or wrong way to grieve, so anything goes. Generally speaking, adolescents tend to search for the meaning of life, which includes death. They will have many “why” questions, many of which have no concrete answers. Often, a teenager’s emotional response to death will be very intense, and issues of unresolved grief will likely emerge. This can include a sense of loss from personal experiences such as divorce, or the death, deployment, or incarceration of a loved one. If the loss is a teenager’s very first encounter with death, he or she may feel confused and conflicted about how they ‘should’ or ‘should not’ process the event.

The Healing Process

A major part of the healing process is allowing oneself to experience the intense emotions associated with the pain of grief. The emotions typically experienced include anger, guilt, and depression. Parents and other adults can help teenagers by providing a safe and supportive environment, reassuring them that their reaction is a normal reaction to abnormal stress, and helping the teenager discharge any pent-up emotions and pain.

Research suggests that there are five stages to the healing process:

  • Denial and isolation
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Grieving GirlThe reality is that people may not experience them in any particular order, and may move back and forth among stages. Like anyone else, a teenager may feel barraged by many different thoughts and emotions all at once. In the beginning, they may feel overwhelmed and pre-occupied by negative emotion most of the time. Gradually these feelings subside and they will start to experience longer periods of time when they are not burdened by their grief. Parents can provide support by patiently and non-judgmentally accepting their feelings. Bereavement groups with other teenagers can also facilitate this process by allowing them to express their emotion, relate to others, and receive support. In some cases, a teenager may continue to struggle. The following information can help determine if a teenager’s reaction to grief goes beyond what would normally be expected.

Some Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress:

  • Recurrent distressing memories of the traumatic event
  • Recurrent nightmares about the traumatic event
  • Re-experiencing the traumatic event (flashbacks)
  • Avoidance of distressing memories or feelings associated with the event
  • Avoidance of people, places, activities, etc. associated with the event
  • Exaggerated negative beliefs about oneself or others (e.g. “I am bad”)
  • Blaming oneself or others for the traumatic event
  • Persistent negative emotional state (e.g. fear, horror, anger, guilt, shame)
  • Decreased interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Feelings of detachment from others
  • Inability to experience positive emotions
  • Significant increase in irritable behavior or angry outbursts
  • Reckless or self-destructive behavior
  • Hypervigilance (extreme sensitivity to potential threats)
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Problems wit concentration
  • Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep)

If any of these symptoms last more than a month and cause significant distress to your teenager or impair their school or social functioning, it is important to connect them with additional support. A school or outside counselor is always a good place to start!

Other Indicators that a Teenager Might Need Counseling:

  • A teenager who has experienced another recent loss or trauma
  • A teenager who has made suicide attempts or who makes suicidal statements
  • A teenager who had a close relationship with the deceased student but pretends that absolutely nothing has happened and continues to do so for an extended period of time
  • A teenager whose schoolwork takes a dramatic decline or who develops a phobic fear of school or other activities
  • A teenager whose behavior changes significantly over a long period of time
  • A teenager who demonstrates a continual preoccupation with death

Please feel free to comment on your experiences supporting teenagers through the grieving process.

Uncategorized , , , , ,

Hopeless to Hopeful: Change Your Mind, Change Your Mood!

“Each of us literally chooses, by his way of attending to things, what sort of universe he shall appear to himself to inhabit” William James, American Philosopher and Psychologist 1842-1910

Positive ThinkingSometimes the best way we can nourish our mind is to simply pay a little attention to it! What is your mind trying to tell you in this moment or that? Do you agree? Perhaps your heart or soul would like to present a different idea for your mind to mull over? Or maybe if you pay close attention, you may catch your mind basking in a pleasant thought about a sweet someone in your life, a beautiful blue sky, or the delicious hot smell of your morning coffee! In that case I’m sure your body and soul would gladly jump on board to prolong the moment and enjoy the ride!

We may sometimes feel at the mercy of our emotions and the circumstances in life that seem to dictate those emotions. While it’s true that some things we have less control over than others, one thing we can choose to change is our thoughts! The next time you find yourself feeling frustrated, hopeless, unmotivated, or depressed, take a moment to pay attention to the thoughts that are running through your mind. These thoughts are at the root of how you feel. Chances are, your thoughts in that moment are along the lines of ‘I can’t… ‘ or ‘I’ll never be able to…’ or ‘What if…’ When we master the ability to notice this negative and fearful thinking, then we have the power to challenge those thoughts and ultimately rewrite the script in our mind that guides how we feel!

Reframe ThinkingIs it really true that you’ll NEVER finish that project at work or get that baby to sleep? Maybe instead you can find a way to change that negative mantra in your mind and reframe your thinking? In those moments after you pay a little more attention to your thoughts and notice the negative beliefs that are driving your frustration or hopelessness, consider some alternatives. Think about circumstances under which you CAN or MAY BE ABLE to do that which is overwhelming you. For example, ‘I CAN do this if I ask for help…’ or ‘I just need to take a break and come back to it’.  What if the project really is not going to get finished in time, you may ask? Again, examine your thoughts and challenge any extreme messages that your mind may be sending you. Are you really going to get fired from your job? How could you make the best of the situation? What are some positive things to focus on or past successes? You’ll be amazed at how different you feel after intentionally changing a negative thought into a more positive one!

In the realm of parenting, I always encourage people to notice when their children are behaving in ways that they like and compliment them on it. When you ‘catch them being good’ your child is more likely to behave that way again in the future! This simple method can be even more powerful than imposing punishment for misbehavior. Likewise, it is important to notice and enjoy the positive thoughts that your mind may be offering you! When you begin to notice or intentionally create thoughts that help you feel better and work toward your goals, you will likely find that such positive thoughts become more plentiful and prevalent. What could be more nourishing than that?

Uncategorized , , ,

Saying Maybe

NoHelping your child learn to accept no for an answer is a common theme in the world of parenting advice. Children tend to feel safe and secure in an environment with structure and limits, and part of providing those boundaries is telling them No… they cannot have ANOTHER handful of candy, or No… they are NOT having chocolate cake for breakfast! Of course, sometimes it’s fun to shake things up and occasionally say Yes to those outrageous requests, and that’s okay. But generally, there are some limitations and children need to understand and accept that sometimes the answer is just No. (So deal with it!)

Unfortunately for most parents, saying No is usually the easiest part. The big challenge is sticking to your guns and making sure that No actually MEANS No! Kids can be very skillful at wearing us down and manipulating us into giving them what they want. However, it is much more detrimental to say No and then give into the pleading and whining than to just say Yes in the first place. You might as well say Sure, have another Twinkie!’ rather than say No and then break down and let them have it. If No only means No some of the time, then your child will test it constantly, and you will find yourself in ongoing battles involving whining, arguing, and temper tantrums that will sap your strength and sanity!

No. Yes? Maybe!Here’s where saying Maybe comes in handy. It’s okay to take a moment to decide what your answer is going to be. In fact, it can be very useful! One benefit is that taking some time to answer allows you to weigh out what you feel comfortable with and whether you’ll be able to stick to a No answer or not. It also gives you time to make the most out of the situation: Maybe upon consideration, the answer is not a simple Yes or No, but rather ‘Yes if you put away your toys and get dressed first!’ Saying ‘Maybe’ or ‘I’m not sure, I need to think about it’ not only helps you make the parenting decisions you are comfortable with and can be consistent about, but it also models adaptive problem solving and decision making strategies that will serve your children well in life! We don’t always have the answers at the tip of our fingers, but it’s okay to take some time and make informed or thoughtful decisions. That’s a value worth imparting to your child!

Uncategorized , ,

Listening To Your Child

Mom listeningBecause listening skills are the building blocks for communicating effectively, being a good listener really is the foundation for all positive human relationships! Attentive listening involves not only hearing the words your child says, but also paying attention to how those words are told. Body language and other non-verbal communication can provide clues to underlying messages that are left unspoken, or maybe even contradictory to what is being said.

For example, if you ask your child how her morning was at school and she responds “Good” in a sad voice with her eyes cast down, you may get the message that the day was anything but good, or that something happened that upset her.  As you can imagine, being an effective listener to your child is the first step in helping them feel understood and assisting them in solving problems that come up. Sometimes you need to pay close attention to catch the underlying meanings that are being communicated!

As the mother of a very chatty 8-year-old who is passionate about his Minecraft, I also practice the craft of ‘Pseudo-Listening’. This is when your child rattles on and on while you do a variety of things from cooking dinner to sending emails while interjecting an occasional ‘Uh-huh… Wow… That’s awesome!’ or even just repeating the last few words of his sentence. This is a useful strategy for appearing to be engaged, but it’s important to know when to turn your full attention to your child and truly listen up. Some of the best opportunities for quality listening happen at the dinner table, in the car, and at bedtime.

Being a good listener is a skill that many of us need to consciously work on developing. Here are 5 Guidelines for Effective Listening to your child:

1. Ask open-ended questions if needed to get a conversation started. Rather than a question that can be answered with one word (How was your day –> Good.), ask questions that require more elaboration, such as ‘Tell me about your day?’ or ‘What kinds of things did you do today?’

2.Listening Quote Stop talking! Look at your child, listen, and let them talk without interrupting.

3. Eliminate distractions and focus on what your child is communicating. Be sure to avoid interruptions like texts or emails.

4. Empathize and be patient with your child. Try to view things from your child’s perspective, and encourage them with a smile and a nod of understanding. Allow time for your child to say what they want to say, even if it takes a long time or you think you already know what they are telling you.

5. Recap what you have heard to make sure you got it right. Repeating back makes your child feel that they have been heard. Let them correct you if you got something wrong (and they will!).

Sometimes just listening to your child is enough. They may just need to talk something out or get it off their chest in order to feel better and move on. Other situations may require some problem solving after you have listened carefully and understood what your child is conveying to you. Either way, you have already strengthened the connection and the bond between you and your child just by being a good listener!

Uncategorized , , ,

Siblings: In For The Long Haul

BrotherLoveWhat are the long term effects of positive sibling relationships? According to Jeffrey Kluger, author of The Sibling Effect, siblings are perhaps the only people you’ll ever know who are with you throughout your entire life. Your parents are there for the beginning and leave too soon, while your kids and spouse come along later, but your siblings are often there from the beginning to the end. Because of this, you have the opportunity for an intimacy and a familiarity that can’t possibly be available to you in any other relationship throughout your life.

It is for this reason that a strong sibling bond is so important. It is worth the effort that we put in as parents to help foster a healthy SiblingBondrelationship among our children.  We do this by teaching them to communicate and solve problems effectively with each other, by giving them opportunities to have fun together and enjoy each other’s company, and by trying to instill family values like love, loyalty, and respect. Our kids learn these things by watching and imitating us, and by practicing healthy relationships with others under our watchful eye.

In effect, what goes on in the playroom between siblings is like a long-term, total-immersion dress rehearsal for life. Kluger asserts that when you learn conflict-resolution skills in the playroom, you then practice them on the playground, and that in turn stays with you. If you have a combative BrotherBondsibling or a physically intimidating, older sibling, you learn a lot about how to deal with situations like that later in life. If you’re an older sibling and you have a younger sibling who needs mentoring or is afraid of the dark, you develop nurturing and empathic skills that you wouldn’t otherwise have. This comes down to our basic interpersonal software that our siblings play a critical role in programming in us. It is possible for only children to experience a similar type of relationship with cousins and close childhood friends. Parents can help by encouraging and supporting these relationships.

For more on this fascinating topic, check out Jeffrey Kluger’s The Sibling Effect: What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us:


Resolving Sibling Conflict

Sibling argumentI usually hear the argument erupt from the next room as the boys revert to their typical pattern of behavior when problem solving skills go out the window. It’s difficult enough to mediate such issues when I see the problem unfold before my eyes, let alone when I have to blindly discern from opposing versions of the same story. What I do know with a great deal of certainty at this point, is that the dynamics involved in the escalation of the current problem are likely the same as those involved in most other sibling disputes in our house. We have older brother flexing his muscles and trying to impose his will, while little one resists being manipulated or manhandled. One resorts to angry yelling while the other’s go-to response is frustrated crying.

Most of the time these boys get along great and are able to figure things out together on their own. For those times that they are not able to successfully problem solve, I have given up trying to get to the bottom of their disputes. Instead, I do the following:

1. Remind them that they both contributed to the problem.

2. Assure them that they are both justified in how they feel, but that they need to find a better way to talk to each other about it. For example, “Tell him what you want without crying (or yelling).” [Read more on Teaching Problem Solving Skills]

3. Require them to do a mundane chore together for 10 minutes, such as clean the baseboards in the bathroom with vinegar and water spray.

Why step 3 you may be wondering?! because it requires them to do something cooperatively with each other rather than work against each other. It also shifts the dynamic from opposing each other to opposing this consequence enforced by me! Finally, this simple solution motivates them to work it out the next time because it’s a better alternative than what will happen if I get involved (wiping down the bathroom)! Best of all, I don’t need to yell or mediate. I simply send them off to their chore!

As far as teaching them a more adaptive way of handling problems, this is important and best done during future situations when a potential problem is arising, rather than after the fact when you really don’t have a clear picture of what happened. Whether your children are toddlers or teenagers, the most effective parenting is done by spending time with them, involved in an activity or at least in the same room with them! This allows you to intervene and lend some support if needed without waiting until things get ugly, after it’s too late to suggest good solutions to problems that come up.

What are your positive parenting strategies to deal with sibling conflict?


Family Night: Baking Whoopie!

Baking WhoopieMy son decided to implement ‘Family Night’ Wednesdays, where we take turns choosing an activity and meal for the whole family to enjoy together. Of course I love this idea, although I wonder what it says about our busy life that the 11-year-old feels the need to schedule time together as a family..? Setting aside THAT little twinge of guilt, we got busy making our plans. The first week of family night we spent way to much money going out to the movies, staying up too late on a school night, and eating an unhealthy and over-priced ‘movie theater dinner’.  We actually vowed never to go to the movies again, although I’m sure we’ll venture back some day.

Red Velvet Whoopie PiesSometimes less is more and this week I think we got it just right, making our own pizza together and baking Red Velvet Whoopie Pies! There are so many positive outcomes associated with having meals together as a family on a regular basis, including healthier eating, better grades, and less substance use during teenage years. But beyond that, spending quality time together as a family is so much fun and helps you feel connected with each other! We’re looking forward to many more Family Nights in and can’t wait to find out what else is in store for us!

Below is the recipe we used for the whoopie pies.  They were so easy and delicious! I recommend using small scoops of dough otherwise they get a little big when you put them together. My son is into yoyomax12 on YouTube where he finds all kinds of cool and yummy baking ideas: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7ttRzmAbAY

Bisquick Red Velvet Whoopie Pies:

Preheat Oven to 350 degrees. In a medium sized bowl mix together:

  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter


  • 1 1/2 Cups Bisquck
  • 1 Egg
  • 2 Tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla
  • 1/2 Cup Milk
  • 2 teaspoons Red Food Coloring

Blend until smooth. Drop spoon-sized balls of dough onto a greased cookie sheet, leaving plenty of room in between for cookies to spread out. Bake 8-10 minutes or until the tops spring back when lightly touched. Cool completely.  Put a little cream cheese filling between two cookies with the cookie bottoms facing together. We buy cream cheese frosting already made but here’s a recipe if you prefer to make it yourself:

Cream Cheese Filling:

Beat until smooth:

  • 4 oz. Cream Cheese, softened
  • 1/4 Cup Butter


  • 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla
  • 1 and 1/2 Cups Powdered Sugar

Continue beating until smooth.




Halloween Pumpkin Monster With Root Veggies

Pumpkin MonsterKids love carving pumpkins around Halloween and it’s a fun family activity to do together. When the boys were little, they would tell me how they wanted their Jack-O-Lantern and I would carve it out. Now as they get older and want to do the carving themselves, I have to buy my own pumpkin to carve because I love it so much! This year we decided to try something fun and make mine into a Pumpkin Monster serving up Maple Glazed Root Veggies for a Halloween party we went to! The face was actually pretty simple and easy to do, as was the recipe for the root veggies:

Maple Glazed Root Veggies

  • Prep Time: 10 Minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 Minutes
  • Total Time: 40 Minutes


  • 1/4 Cup Maple Syrup
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon Mustard
  • 1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1/4 tsp Pepper
  • 2 Sweet Potatoes, chopped
  • Approximately 1 and 1/2 Cups Chopped Carrots
  • Approximately 1 and 1/2 Cups Chopped Parsnips


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Coat parsnips, sweet potatoes and carrots with the olive oil, salt and pepper on a baking pan. Roast in oven for 15 minutes, then remove and retoss on baking sheet. Cook 15 minutes more, until all the veggies and potatoes are soft. Combine maple syrup, Dijon mustard, and garlic powder in a small bowl. Drizzle the maple mixture over potatoes and veggies and mix to coat well.

Note: This recipe works just as well using only carrots, potatoes, or sweet potatoes. You can substitute pretty much any winter root vegetables, squash, etc. that you like!

Uncategorized , , ,

How Children Learn Responsibility

Mom and Child PlantingWhat does it mean to be responsible? For both children and adults, responsibility involves making decisions and acting on them, being trusted, and answering for one’s behavior. All children are different, and they learn to be responsible at different rates and in a variety of ways. No matter what your child’s style, you can teach him or her to be responsible through specific, intentional parenting practices.  The best way to do this is by modeling responsible behavior yourself, and by giving your child the chance to practice responsible behavior themselves through age-appropriate chores. Ultimately, every child needs the opportunity to show that they are responsible for their actions, chores, schoolwork, and relationships. Here are some parenting strategies that can help:

Demonstrating Responsible Behavior for Your Child

  • Responsibility SkillsTalk to your child as day-to-day problems come up and responsible choices need to be made. Explain how and why you make those choices. For example, tell your child ‘I really don’t want to leave the park, but if we don’t get home and let the dog out he might have an accident. We better go home so that doesn’t happen.’
  • Focus on the cause and effect relationship of our choices and ask your child to identify how different actions will lead to positive or negative outcomes. For example, ‘What will happen if we leave the groceries in the car instead of bringing them in the house and putting them away?’
  • Frame responsible actions in terms of family values for your child. For example, ‘We believe in keeping promises so we can trust each other, and we said we would help shovel grandma’s walkway, so we’re going to keep our promise.’
  • Follow through with tasks and point out to your child how good it feels to accomplish something.
  • Highlight other positive outcomes that are associated with responsible actions, such as being able to find something because you put it away where it belongs, or knowing someone trusts you because they can always count on you to help them.

Helping Your Child Practice Responsible Behavior Through Chores:

  • Steps 1 2 3Offer chores as a chance to be responsible rather than as a punishment.
  • Be clear and detailed about what is expected, when chores should be completed, and consequences of not doing them.
  • Stay positive and provide specific feedback to your child. Focus on their behavior rather than your child as a person. For example, ‘Nice job feeding the dog and cleaning up the spill!’ rather than ‘Good girl!’. Likewise, express disapproval with their behavior (‘I’m disappointed you did not clean up after yourself’) rather than with your child (‘You’re irresponsible’).
  • Start with just a small number of simple chores and increase your child’s level of responsibility as he or she grows and matures.
  • Monitor your child’s completion of chores and praise them for a job well done, but also be open to changing the expectations if necessary. The goal is for your child to be successful, not overwhelmed.
  • Involve your child in choosing chores and setting the expectations and consequences for not completing chores.

Most importantly, remember to have fun and celebrate all the mini-milestones that show progress is happening! Stay positive with yourself as well as with your child!!!



Uncategorized , ,

Pets and Responsibility

Boy and his dogIn addition to all the love, companionship, and exercise that pets can provide, research shows that helping care for a pet promotes aspects of children’s emotional development such as healthy self-esteem and a sense of responsibility. Here are some of the ways this can happen:

  1. Through caring for a pet, kids learn about the cause and effect relationship between their actions and the impact their actions have on others. For example, when you feed your dog every day (cause) –> the dog grows strong and healthy and is excited to see you (effect)! When you forget to feed Fido (cause) –> the dog goes hungry and gets into the garbage, making a mess which then needs to get cleaned up (effect)!
  2. When children are expected to help out with pets every day or every week on a consistent basis, they learn to follow through with a task and make responsible behavior a habit. For example, if you want to have a fish tank in your room, you have to keep it clean. The best way to do this is by making it part of your weekly routine!
  3. Boy and GoldfishHelping with a pet teaches children to take good care of their things. When you spill something while feeding your pet, it’s important to clean it up to keep away smells, germs, and pests. It also keeps your pet’s area looking and smelling nice! Putting things back where they belong (your dog’s leash) helps make sure you can find it the next time you need it!
  4. Helping take care of a pet can lead to a child’s sense of accomplishment and competence. Their self-esteem grows from feeling pride in doing something important and doing it responsibly.
  5. Caring for their pet gives children an opportunity to show that they can be responsible, and experience the benefits of gaining the trust of another. It is a good feeling to know that your parent trusts you with an important responsibility, and with that trust eventually comes added privileges!
  6. Children (and adults!) inevitably make mistakes when caring for a pet, but this can be an opportunity for them to learn how to take ownership for a mistake and do their best to make it right. For example, if they let the dog out of the house without a leash, it is important for them to tell and adult and help get the dog back inside.

From a parenting perspective, you want to set your child up for success in helping care for a pet.  For their safety and the safety of their pet, be sure to give them age-appropriate tasks that they have the physical and cognitive capacity to handle. For example:

  • Age 3 –> Fill food bowl
  • Age 5 –> Some basic grooming, clean pet’s area
  • Age 8 –> Help exercise pet

Boy thumbs upAlso, try and lead by example as much as you can. When you behave consistently in a certain way, your child is more likely to behave the same way.  When your child makes mistakes, it’s best to stay calm and positive so your child can focus on learning and solving the problem rather than having to focus on their parent’s anger. Disapproval should be focused on a specific behavior (I don’t like it when you leave the door open) rather than on your child as a person (bad boy) in order to send the important message that you love your child even when they make a mistake.

Having a pet can be a rewarding experience for the whole family! Please share your story – we would love to hear how a pet has added to your family or to your child’s responsibility! What are some of the challenges you face while trying to involve your child in the care of your pet, and how do you handle those challenges?

Uncategorized , ,