Tag Archives: social emotional

Helping Children Cope With Death

grievingChildren experience big emotions. When they’re happy, they’re ecstatic! When they’re mad, they’re FURIOUS. And when they’re sad, they’re absolutely sorrowful. When children experience life changing events, such as the death of a loved one, these emotions often get all jumbled up in their little bodies, and can be very overwhelming. It is our job, as the adults who care for them, to help guide children through the process of grieving in a healthy way— a way that will allow them to process their emotions and move on.

A few months ago, my father passed away. My children’s grandfather—the silly, loving, larger-than-life man they had come to know and love—was there one day, and tragically gone the next. This event shook our family to its core. All of us were dealing with so many emotions that often changed from one moment to the next. How was I, in the midst of my immense grief, going to help my children cope with this loss?

The morning of my dad’s passing, my husband and I sat down with my children to talk to them. I gathered my son under one arm, and my daughter under the other, and I began to speak. “I need to talk to you. You know that grandpa was in the hospital because he wasn’t feeling well. The doctors and nurses tried their very best to make him better, but they weren’t able to fix what wasn’t working right in his body. Grandpa died this morning. Grandma and I were with him, and he was surrounded by our love when he died.” At this moment, both of my children began sobbing into my shoulders. I hugged them tighter, began to cry myself, and went on, “Please know that he loved you very, very much. And be certain that he knew how much you loved him. It’s ok to be sad, or mad, or however else you feel. It’s ok to cry.” And that’s just what we did.

Each of us dealt with our grief differently. My 4-year-old daughter talked about grandpa a lot, and even asked questions like, “So, we’re not going to see grandpa anymore, right? Like Stella?” (Stella was our cat who had died the previous year.) She drew lots of pictures— pictures of grandpa wearing his signature plaid shirts, pictures she wanted to give to grandpa, “if he was still alive.” My 9-year-old son was more private in his sadness. From time to time, a few tears would slip out when something reminded him of grandpa. Then, one day, I was outside cleaning out my dad’s truck. Inside, I found a photograph my dad had been carrying around of my son, taken while sitting on my dad’s lap. My son came up behind me and asked what I was doing. I showed him the picture and asked him if he wanted it. He shook his head yes, sat down on the concrete, and began to weep. I sat down with him, as did his sister. We all put our arms around each other, hugged, and cried, for a long time, right there in the driveway.

Grieving is a process for children, just as it is for adults. When children experience the death of a loved one, or even a pet, there are some things you can do to help them:

  • Use simple, clear words that leave no room for misinterpretation. Avoid using euphemisms like “gone to sleep” or “went away” that could lead to scary or misleading thoughts.
  • Let children talk or ask questions. Really listen to what they say without judgment, and try to answer their questions honestly, using terms they’ll understand.
  • Allow children to cry. Telling a child “You’re okay, you’re okay,” only negates their feelings and pushes them back down inside. They’re NOT okay, and they won’t be okay until they’re able to let those feelings out.
  • Cry with them. It’s normal and healthy to express sadness through tears, and modeling that yourself can be beneficial for both of you.
  • Help children remember. Talking about their loved one, telling stories about them, drawing pictures of them, and recalling fond memories they shared together are all things that will help a child get to the final stage of grief—acceptance.

Remember, grief has no timeline. Whatever period of time it takes a child to process the death of a loved one is the time that’s right for them. As early childhood professionals, our role is simply to be there to support them, to listen, to provide stability, and most of all, to care.

Quiet Space, Happy Place

quiet-space

This sample quiet space has some great ideas for elements to include: comfy pillows, books, and calming lighting!

Full days at preschool can be long and tiring for children, just as days can feel long for caregivers. Provide the opportunity for children to have somewhere to go and calm down, take a break and relax by creating a “Quiet Space” in your classroom. Make it a space where a child feels safe, by creating rules to ensure the comfort of the space. Explain to the children that there are times when we are too upset to think or make good choices, so spending time alone can help them feel better.  Teach children to respect the area and use it one at a time, and for peaceful activity.  Make the area comfortable through the use of soft items such as pillows, bean bag chairs, and stuffed toys. Young children like enclosed spaces. To make it even more private, play huts and tents that still allow visible access to the teachers can be used. To optimize relaxation in the area, teach children breathing techniques and ways to identify emotions and calm their bodies.

When introducing this area to your students, make sure they know this space is not a “time-out,” but a place to go if they feel different emotions or become overwhelmed.  Creating a “homey“  environment in this area can put children at ease. Including small photo albums such as family pictures of the students is a great way to allow children to feel connected to their parents while they are missing them.

We as adults need to “get away” sometimes and leave the chaos behind. Children are no different, and if they feel that there is no place to go to get a break from the crowd, they will begin to feel frustrated just as we would. If a student needs to be supported while trying to calm down, make it a point to sit with them and help them identify their feelings and give them the attention they need. Taking care of a child’s social emotional health is so critical for their overall well being.

The ultimate hope is that as children become successful in using a quiet space, they will be able to find a quiet place within themselves and manage their feelings without needing the physical space. Teaching children how to have control over their emotions and self soothe will not only help them in preschool, but throughout their lives. Parents can use these relaxation techniques at home, as well as identify a space for quiet time. Teachers and parents can work together to support children when it comes to dealing with difficult emotions. For more information on breathing techniques and ideas for your quiet space, go to https://consciousdiscipline.com/.

Cozy spaces bring happy faces!

Assuming children are friends does not teach them social skills.

Assuming children are friends doesn't teach them social skillsMany times I hear adults who work with children referring to a group of peers as friends. For example when two children start fighting over a toy, I often hear, “Be nice to your friend,” or “Your friend wants a turn.” What is a friend? Who in your life do you truly consider your friends? What signs do children give us that convey to us that they are friends? It is not enough nor appropriate to assume that all children are automatically friends—instead we should focus on how to help children learn what it means to be kind and respectful to others. Children also need our support to learn about empathy, how to express themselves through words, as well as learning about how to problem solve with one another. Here are some ways to support children’s social development:

Model using your own behavior. Children learn by imitating those around them. When they see others treated with kindness and respect, it teaches them what is socially acceptable. This also includes being transparent to children. It is okay to express your feelings aloud to children along with owning up to your mistakes. This can teach children that feelings and mistakes are natural and normal to experience.

Make it clear that everyone is entitled to their feelings. Labeling and validating emotions helps young children not only learn about what they are feeling but also that it is okay to feel them. When children understand that it is safe to feel their emotions they can learn to self-regulate and work to understand why they may be feeling a certain way. This is when they can move past problems and work with their peers to solve problems; not to mention make friends.

Refrain from fixing conflicts. Telling children how to solve a conflict—whether it is through forced sharing, time limits for turn taking and taking away the object or toy that is the source of the conflict—hinders children from learning how to problem-solve on their own. This can be a challenge because conflict can be uncomfortable for many people. It takes trust and patience to help children learn these skills.

Facilitate conversation. Sometimes starting a conversation with, “What is the problem here?” or “How can you work this out?” is enough to get to the root of the problem. Adults can help facilitate conversations so that children can learn to identify what the issue is and then figure out steps to a resolution. Remain neutral, stay calm and do not take sides. Repeat what you hear children saying or see them doing through their actions. Ask, “What should we do about this?” You will be surprised what children can come up with on their own.

“Intentionality” has become a buzz word in the world of early care and education for good reason. We should not only be aware of what activities are being planned and why but we should also be intentional about the words we use when speaking to children. Being intentional supports social development and a lifetime of skills that will help children initiate play, resolve conflicts and make friends.