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By: Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT & Kacy Mixon, PhD, LMFT

In part one of this blog, we discussed the fact that it is not your role as a caregiver to take away the negative feelings that can be associated with difficult situations like parental deployment. So, that should have taken some pressure off of you on that front. But, are you curious about how you can facilitate the expression of emotions as a result of the tough stuff?

Here are some pointers:

  • Allow children to naturally express themselves, being careful to validate where they are. It may be helpful to view big life changes such as parental deployment as a loss which causes grief.
  • Understand this:
    • This may be the child’s first experience of this particular situation, so their sense of security and safety may feel threatened.
    • You may see ways in which the child has been physically impacted by their experience- for example, loss of appetite, complaints of stomach and head pain, sleeping problems, etc.
  • Below is a chart with examples of do’s and don’ts when trying to help your child through tough times.

 

D0 DON’T
Say, “That must be very hard for you. You are really brave to talk about it.” Say; “I know how you feel. That happened to me when I was a kid, too.”

 

Ask, “Are you okay?” Say, “Don’t worry about any of this. Everything will be fine and so will you. “
Say, “I am so glad that you came to me and talked to me about how you feel.” Say, “Try not to think about it and it will go away.”
Follow their lead Discourage them from having negative emotions and steer them towards only positive ones.
Utilize books, art, writing, etc to promote safe expression of feelings and emotions associated with their circumstances Single them out, giving them special privileges that could make them feel even more different from their peers than they already do.
Continue maintaining routine, rules, and expectations Take away their rules and expectations so that they feel less stress and pressure
 Use words and phrases based on their developmental ability to understand and make sense of what is happening Substitute real words or phrases with ones that are considered less harsh or blunt when the child is developmentally able to understand the real word

Some of the examples above come from a wonderful children’s book titled A Terrible Thing Happened.  While this book’s main focus is on children who have experienced trauma, many of the suggestions can be applied to children who experience difficult life changes and circumstances. 

While paying close attention to the suggestions above, it is always important to keep in mind that YOU are the expert on your child. So, try to think of ways to tailor conversations or activities to their particular needs. Also, don’t ever try to take all of this on alone. Remember your support system and that of your children and enlist their help to implement your strategies. Creating a safe space within your support system is key. 

The next blog will focus on resources that can assist you in implementing the suggestions provided in both blog one and two.

Reference: 

Holmes, M.M. (2000). A Terrible Thing Happened. Franklin, Tenessee: Dalmation Press. 

Blog Image: Pixabay [Drawing Girl by Vargazs, January 31, 2016, CCO]