Helping children process emotions, Pt.1

Helping children process emotions, Pt.1

     Without making this a Post-Doctorate dissertation I wanted to share this. Within the past month my wife's grandmother passed away after battling #Emphysema. Just this week her father had a stroke which will require a triple-bypass. The doctor said, "You're perfectly healthy, except for your heart." The irony was more than I could bare and since laughing was inappropriate at the time I went with my family's "this will be funnier in 15 minutes" rule.
     As adults we are better prepared to process grief. This, of course, is a blanket statement and "processing" an event such as losing a toe to a lawnmower certainly doesn't compare to losing a loved one/parent/child, etc. Keeping that in perspective though, the cognitive process of adults IS better suited to dealing with emotional distress. This may be news for some people but... there IS a grieving process no matter how "bad ass" you think you are and there is no timeline to go through it. You can be "agnostic" about it but it's real and it exists. Compounding traumatic events at any phase only complicates the process and therefore requires even more in depth care when dealing with it. For example, my wife may be at a more advanced stage of grief-processing in relation to losing her grandmother but compounding the process with the hospitalization and subsequent surgery of her father will certainly intensify her emotions and possibly complicate the process. If you follow me so far then I'm shifting gears to the application in children. If you're still lost, re-read the above section and try to remember that "two objects may not occupy the same space at the same time" principle (#PaulisExclusionPrinciple). It goes with everything, not just mass.
     Children consider many things when computing new emotions. 'Does this hurt?', 'Why is mommy/daddy crying?', 'Where is (blank)?' Using the same above example I can share with you that the passing of my wife's grandmother DOES have an effect on the great-grandchildren. My youngest daughter, nicknamed "best-girlfriend" by her great-grandmother, was saddened by her passing but doesn't know how to process the information for many reasons; the reality of her not coming around at Christmas, her understanding of death as finite/permanent, and ultimately the reality of death. Now, here we are at the in-laws house while my wife oversees the care of her dad at the hospital since her mom has to return to work. The kids are having fun, playing with toys, taking a break in the cooler-than-Florida South Georgia weather and remain practically oblivious to the severity of undergoing a #triple-bypass.
     This isn't their fault and really why put a false "fear" in them by telling them the intense details. What we, as parents, need to be aware of is the stark reality that whatever the outcome may be we will need to help our children process it as well as dealing with it appropriately ourselves. Sure, some things happen which cause us to cry so intensely that we drool or can't stand up... that's certainly expected given certain situations. However, if we do this in front of our children and never address the emotions we are processing then our children will absolutely shut off this part of their developmental process.
     I have two stories to share with you on this subject: the first involves our neighbors shortly after we moved in, the second with a boy we met in the neighborhood. We moved-in to the neighborhood shortly after Christmas so not seeing anyone at the large house next to us for the first few weeks was nothing abnormal. However, as January began to turn into February I started to wonder if anyone lived there and honestly if it was for sale, it's a nice house! I met the guy across the street and after bringing it up he let me know that the mother had "recently been diagnosed with seizures and when she was getting out of the shower she managed to slip, hit her head on the sink, and break her neck." Her son found her, dead. The father and son showed up a few days later and the widow's son, Rudy, came over to play with our kids. I took the opportunity to meet the dad and introduce myself. Rudy was a nice kid, always appropriate, and used manners but didn't seem to be too "upset." In fact, he told my kids that his mom died, voluntarily during a water gun match, and that his aunt and uncle had gotten him the water gun he was currently soaking us with. I asked him, as casually as I could make it, how he felt about that. He said "people die" and ran off spraying people as he was before. I figured that in his absence both the father and Rudy had gotten counseling since he seemed to be dealing with it as well as any child could. Not more than two months later I notice the Aunt and Uncle at the house again. The kids had gone next door to have a water gun fight and they answered the door. This was curious to me so I went over to chat since water guns turned into a basketball game. Guess what?! Dad got killed in a motorcycle accident! I had to walk away. We've seen Rudy about three times since then and I can tell you that he did NOT get effective counseling after his mother's death because the few times I saw him after his father's death he was emotionally detached, uncommonly shy, and had begun to demonstrate physical characteristics of his inability to process emotions like not making eye-contact and running off after five minutes or so to "check on his aunt". Rudy has moved out and now lives with his Aunt and Uncle while the grandparents settle the estate.
     My next story is about an 8 year old that we now take with us to the +Campo YMCA, +Cub Scouts, and just about anywhere else we go. His story goes like this.... He stopped by shortly after I had met the neighbor across the street and started playing with our kids. Typical "rides his bike around the neighborhood until his parents get home" kinda kid. Well, he wanted to come in and play #legos one day but I wanted to make sure his parents knew where he was so I walked down to meet his dad. Come to find out that his parents were in the process of a divorce but according to Ethan, the boy, "his mom was moving closer to her job". That's a whole different topic though. After meeting the dad we exchanged numbers and Ethan has been coming over almost daily since then. Last month his dad passed away after being diagnosed with terminal #mesothelioma and another form of cancer that I can't remember. For about a month he underwent treatment and finally got admitted to +Moffitt Cancer Center before being released to respite care. He came home on a Monday and passed away Tuesday. Unfortunately, Ethan still has yet to begin the grieving process but has demonstrated physical traits like clinging, open discussion, and modeling. He hasn't spent the night since his dad passed because he doesn't like to be far from his mother. He talks about his dad being dead but nothing beyond that simple statement; like he's not aware that his dad's not coming home someday. Finally, he began pointing out cars. His dad liked cars, all things cars I guess. His modeling though is almost "rain-man'ish" since he doesn't know anything about the cars, much less the make or model. He's just pointing them out and saying he likes this or that.
     Ethan's mom had already met someone since they had been separated for over a year before his dad's death and now the "step-dad" is able to fly down from New York and begin to integrate himself, so we can forget the grieving process and go right into changes, right?! This is why psychologists get paid so much. They have to sift through our screwed up lives to get to the bottom of at least ONE problem before they can begin working on it and in the meantime find a dozen reasons why someone should be flogged, repeatedly!
     I will end this post with this. We have pointed out my messed-up neighbors and identified the multiple reasons that parents should be aware of their children's emotions. The next post we'll look at ways to begin the grieving process and how we can be better aware of our children and help them develop healthy responses. Stay tuned!
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