Scared of Monsters and Ghosts

“Sometimes I’m scared of monsters and ghosts.  I’m not scared when I see that they aren’t real.”

Excerpt from the I’m Not Scared Book by Todd Parr

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Belle, our chocolate Labradoodle, developed a fear.  We own a dog that is terrified of going on walks!  I should clarify that this fear is restricted to our neighborhood.  My sister watched Belle for a few days in the summer at her house and she enjoyed walking.  For a period of time, she would not even leave my yard.  Sometimes, Belle will walk around our circle, but then stops every time I try to walk up the street.  She becomes a statue and I can’t get my scared dog to move an inch!   Hopefully, one day, Belle will become comfortable walking around our neighborhood again.  At the moment; however, we are limited to our short circle walks.

I have my own share of fears.  Spiders and heights.  My fear of heights was finally conquered at the age of 29 when I went skydiving with two best friends.  Needless to say, you probably will never see me skydiving again!  The conversation of “fears” is a common topic with children.  Monsters, the dark, and ghosts often rank high on the list.  Nightmares are typical in young children.  We recently covered the topic of fears in our grief support group for children ages 7 to 9.  A parent or teacher may notice fears develop in children who are grieving.  For example, a child who experienced a father’s death may now fear the death of his or her mother.

Six ways to help children who are experiencing fears:

1.  Decorate a plain pillowcase with fabric markers.    We recently used this activity two weeks ago in our group.  The kids loved it!  They were excited to go to sleep that night!  Some children drew relaxing pictures.  (The beach, clouds, stars.)  Other children drew pictures of things/people who help them to feel happy.  (Puppies, rainbows, family members.)

2.  Encourage your child to discuss the nightmare.  Don’t just say, “It was just a dream….forget about it.”  Instead say, “Tell me about your dream.  Were there any people or animals in it?  How did you feel in your dream?” Documenting the details in the nightmare may reveal a pattern that is associated with the loss.

3.  Turn “scary” into “funny.”  The kids in our group had fun with this one during the pillowcase activity.  They drew pictures of their nightmares by adding funny details.  A few had watched the Harry Potter movies and recalled a scene in the Prisoner of Azkaban.  A creature in a box popped out and turned into the person’s greatest fear.  Then, the person had to use a spell to turn the fear into a funny image.  Have your child make up a new version of the nightmare that has a funny scenario.  Click on the link below to view the scene from the movie:

4.  Relaxation.  Apps for the I-PAP/ I-POD.  I discovered a cool app to use with kids, even adults!  It is called Relax Melodies.  You pick the sounds and create your own relaxing music.  I particularly love the “campfire” and “rainstorm” sounds.  You have 50 to choose from.  Icy snow, afternoon, seaside, frogs, cavern, and butterfly are some choices.  I play this app in our group while they are completing an activity and they enjoy choosing the sounds.  It is a great way to fall asleep as you pretend to be listening to the ocean.  The link to the free app is listed below:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/relax-melodies-sleep-zen-sounds/id314498713?mt=8

5.  Reassure your child that he or she is safe.  My own kids have night lights and my daughter even has a pillow that lights up, then shuts off after a certain amount of time.

6.  Teach your child that a little fear can be helpful/ too much fear can be hurtful.  For example, a little fear will help you practice more for a piano recital because you fear of playing the wrong notes.  I explained fear to our support group by having each child write a fear on a bug.  We talked about how having a large amount of fear can make you feel “stuck.”   It might feel like you are stuck in a spider web.  You can’t move or think.  You feel frozen with fear.  We then placed our bugs onto a big spider web.  As a conclusion, the group discussed what it means to be “brave” and ways they have been brave for themselves or for someone else.  When you act brave, you will never feel trapped in a web.

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http://www.jonihaypatras.com

Don’t leave me! I want to stay with you!

Chester Raccoon stood at the edge of the forest and cried.

“I don’t want to go to school,” he told his mother.  “I want to stay home with you.  I want to play with my friends.  And play with my toys. 

And read my books.  And swing on my swing.  Please may I stay home with you?” 

Excerpt from The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

I will never forget my school counselor years in Maryland, especially a second grader who refused to attend school.  His mother enrolled him into public school half way through the year.  The little boy was home schooled and never even went to preschool.  He spent most of his first days with me.

I vividly recall him picking up my phone, shaking the receiver in the air.  “For the love of God, call my mom!” he screamed over and over.  Even though he made progress over the week, his mother decided to home school.  Again.

Both of my kids experienced separation anxiety when beginning preschool.  It was not expected of my daughter.  She was a social butterfly who talked to EVERYONE!  I left preschool a few times in tears, even though I knew they would be fine in a few minutes.  I could hear my son crying and screaming for me as I walked down the hallway.  Before I reached the door, his crying always stopped.  This went on for an entire month, but then he ran into school every morning.  He was excited to be there, trusting that I would pick him up after lunch.

Separation anxiety is typical for preschoolers.  It is also typical for a child, who is grieving a loss, to suddenly develop separation anxiety.  A parent or caregiver should be concerned if the anxiety significantly interferes with the child’s social, academic, or physical needs.  A phone call to the child’s pediatrician would be required at that point.

There are a few ways to help a child with separation anxiety:

1.  Remember the word “QUICK.”  Make a QUICK exit after a QUICK good-bye.  (I am guilty of this mistake!)

2.  Read the book The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn.  Trace the child’s hand onto paper, draw a heart, and then kiss.  Cut it out and place it in the child’s book bag.  You could also attach it to your child’s book bag with string.

3.  After reading the book, kiss your child’s hand and place a sticker or temporary tattoo on the spot.  Remind your child that the love never goes away.

4.  Reassure the child of the pick up time after school.  (Right before lunch, after lunch, etc…)  Don’t be late!

5.  Tell your child that YOU will be okay when he or she is at school.  I was paged to the office on a spring afternoon before the start of kindergarten.  My assistance was needed to calm a girl who was having a HUGE meltdown as her mom was attempting to leave.  For the last few days, she was refusing to attend school.  Mom was completely confused about her behavior.  I managed to bring her into my office to find out what was happening.  Mom waited with the principal.  It turns out that she was worried about her mom.  Apparently, she was recently sick.  The girl worried that something would happen to Mom when she was at school.  After asking her mom to talk to us, the girl discussed her feelings.  Mom reassured her daughter that she was better, then I walked the girl to class.  No more meltdowns ever again!

6.  Have your child give YOU a “Kissing Hand.”  This is a morning ritual before school in our house, even if we have a crazy morning getting out the door on time.  It gives me a peace of mind knowing that we said “I love you” to each other.  One day it will be me experiencing separation anxiety as I drop my daughter and son off at college.  Hopefully, it will be a driving distance away.  But if not, I will be kissing their hands and asking if they remember our morning ritual.  My kids will probably laugh at my silliness, but deep down in their hearts, they will love the reassurance.  Our love will last forever.

Chester took his mother’s hand in his own and unfolded her large, familiar fingers into a fan.  Next, he leaned forward and kissed the center of her hand. 

“Now you have a Kissing Hand too,” he told her.  And with a gentle “Good-Bye” and “I love you,”

Chester turned and danced away.

Excerpt from The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

www.jonihaypatras.com

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Screams in the Night

“The stars on high are shining bright-

Sweet dreams, my darling, sleep well…good night!”

Author: Mem Fox from the book Time for Bed

 

The house is quiet.  The kids are sleeping soundly in their beds.  Well, actually my daughter is sleeping in my bed.  I need to be honest.  This has become a nightly ritual, but that can be saved for another post…

It is an hour past my usual bedtime.  I started watching a scary movie on television.  Not a smart move on my part.  After drifting off, an hour goes by of peaceful sleep.  Suddenly, I hear a sound and believe someone has broken into my window.  Panic sets in and radiates throughout my body.  Getting out of the room is the only option.  Somehow I run in the pitch dark room, throwing my blankets onto the floor and smacking my arm on the nightstand.  Now I am awake and standing in the hallway.  My heart is racing so fast.  Am I having a heart attack?  The episode feels like an eternity, but has only lasted a few minutes.  My throat hurts from screaming.  As I walk back into the room, my scared daughter has no idea what happened.  Two words.  Night terror.

My recent night terror was unexpected because I have not experienced one for years.  They began in childhood and became more frequent during college.  My college roommates must have loved me!  The change in sleep patterns of college life may have caused them to occur.  Staying up late and not enough sleep.  They also happened during times of emotional stress; for example, after the death of my grandfather.  During a psychology class in college, I realized my screaming episodes were actually night terrors.   We were learning the criteria for various sleep disorders.  I did not meet the criteria for a “disorder” because they occurred infrequently and were not interfering significantly with my life.  However, I did feel relieved to know there was a name for these episodes.

The following are a few suggestions to help a child who experiences night terrors:

1.  Keep a written diary of the dates the night terrors occur.  Write any details that stand out.  For example, if your child went to sleep later than the usual bedtime.  A diary may provide a pattern and will be helpful if you need to speak to the pediatrician.

2.  Remove any toys on the floor in your child’s room, in case he or she gets out of bed during a night terror.  (I would jump out of bed and run into the hallway!)

3.  Don’t try to wake up the child during an episode.   Night terrors only last a few minutes and children usually do not remember the next morning.  Night terrors are more frightening to the parent.  Trying to wake up the child can further agitate him or her.  In addition, it might take longer for the child to fall back asleep.

4.  Reassure the child that he or she is safe after the night terror.   You may need to sit with your child for a few minutes.

5.  Encourage your child to discuss his or her feelings during the day.  If your child is dealing with a loss, contact the school counselor to inquire of any support offered in the school or community.

6.  Establish a relaxing bedtime routine.  Give your child enough rest time during the day.  Try to put your child to bed at the same time every night.

7.  If  the night terrors become more frequent, look at your written diary to see if there is a pattern.  If your child wakes up at the same time, set an alarm to 15 minutes before they occur.  Wake up your child for a few minutes.  This may prevent the night terror.  (My night terrors always occur 30 minutes after I fall asleep.)

Do you have any strategies that have worked with a child who has night terrors?  Please share your ideas.

Night terrors appear to be a frightening experience, but remember the child usually has no recollection in the morning.  They are more frightening to others who witness the night terror.  (My husband and daughter would agree!)  Night terrors typically end by adolescence.  (Unfortunately, not for me!)

 

http://www.jonihaypatras.com

Someday

“Someday, a long time from now, your own hair will glow silver in the sun.  And when that day comes, love, you will remember me.”

Alison Meghee; excerpt from the children’s book Someday

My daughter received the picture book, Someday, for her third birthday from my mother.  It is a touching story about a mother’s love for her daughter as she grows to be an adult.  I have read the book several times to her and tears well up in my eyes every time I read the last two pages.  I picture Ella, my daughter, sitting on the porch with her grandchildren and telling stories of me.  My hope is that my son and daughter both have a lifetime of memories to experience with me.  It is every mother’s hope.

The reality is 1 in 20 children in the United States experience the death of a parent before they reach the age of 18.  A child may also be grieving over a mother’s deployment, illness, or incarceration.  Mother’s Day is a reminder of the significant absence in their lives.  How can we help children who are grieving the loss of a mother, especially on Mother’s Day?

Instead of focusing on the absence in their lives, try to make Mother’s Day about remembrance and honor.  Today is a day we remember our mothers- even if they are not physically with us.  If you are a relative or family friend of a child that is grieving, tell the child a memory of his or her mother.  Maybe it is a memory that the child has never heard.  Talk with the child and plan a way to honor his or her mother.  For example: plant a flower, release balloons into the sky, have a picnic, or visit the grave.

The child can make a special memory box that holds items; such as, jewelry, letters, or pictures that belonged to his or her mother.  You can find plain wooden boxes at craft stores.  A shoe box would also work.  The child can paint the box and then glue gems or shells to the outside.  This is a favorite activity for our support group.  Every year they want to make a memory box.  I love how the kids choose the colors to paint the boxes.  I recall a girl painting the color “purple” because it was her mom’s favorite color.  Also, a boy glued sea shells to the box because his mom loved the beach.  Memory boxes can also be made for children who are physically apart from their mothers.  A child who has a mother that is deployed could place letters received in the box, along with pictures and jewelry.

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My daughter is almost nine-years old and developmentally understands death.  She knows that I help children who are grieving the loss of a parent.  My four-year old is beginning to understand the permanence of death.  He asked me the other day, “Mom do you want me to live with you forever?  Well, I can’t because you won’t live forever.”

It is funny how children are honest in their words!   He reminded me to slow down and enjoy every minute that I spend with him.   As I say good-night to my children, I often say these words.  “No matter where I am and how far apart we are from each other, I will always be in your heart and you will be in mine.”

Someday, a long time from now, my daughter and son’s hair will glow silver in the sun.  And when that day comes, they will remember me and know that I am always with them.

http://www.jonihaypatras.com

Tough Boys

When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother wold say to me, “Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.”

To this day, especially in times of  “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers.  So many caring people in this world.

– Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers)

 

A few weeks ago I brought my kids to a local park to enjoy the beautiful weather.  My heart began to beat faster  when one boy flew off the merry-go-round and onto the ground. He looked to be around 6 years old.  The boy was trying to be brave and not cry.  His father responded by saying, “If his mom was here, he would be bawling.”

I thought about this incident during the ride home.  Why is a boy more likely to cry in front of Mom, but not Dad?  I have encountered boys in school that grew up with the notion that “boys need to be tough” and “boys don’t cry.”  I recall one boy being told that he is now “the man of the house” after the death of his father.  It was tremendous pressure for a grieving boy in elementary school.

My counseling experience has taught me that boys grieve differently from girls.  Teachers often report more behavior issues in the classroom with grieving boys; such as, not focusing and aggression.  Girls would sit down and discuss feelings openly, even after meeting with me for the first time.  It proved to be more difficult with boys.  Parents and teachers sometimes struggle in helping boys who are grieving a loss.

 

How can parents, teachers, and counselors help boys who are grieving?

 

1.  Talk during an activity.  Take a walk, play a game, or throw a ball back and forth.  

When I was a school counselor in Maryland, I met with a second grade boy to shoot hoops once a week.  He was experiencing the death of his father and the loss of not seeing his mother.  The teachers in that school were amazing and realized the importance of counseling.  I was encouraged to meet with students during instruction time, instead of only recess and lunch.  He was in a comfort zone and easily talked about his feelings while we payed basketball.

 

2.  Teach boys that no matter how emotionally painful life becomes, violence is NEVER an option.

Have a plan in place.  What will he do when he feels angry?  What will he do when he feels sad?  These discussions need to begin in elementary school and continue through every grade.  I already began this conversation with my 4-year-old son.  He hides under our kitchen table when upset, but I never know the reason.  I help him to talk about it.  When his sister teases him and he feels like punching her, I teach him to use his “words.”

I had the opportunity to attend a conference by the United States Secret Service at Penn State.  The agent interviewed boys that were involved in school shootings.  I will never forget what he said.  Every boy wished that one adult would have acknowledged him at school.  Simply said “hello” in the hallway.  They thought no one cared about them.  Some were bullied.  I can’t even imagine how that feels.

Not every boy who is bullied will engage in violence, but it is important to be proactive and reach out to every boy in a school.  Teachers and adults in the school need to make it a priority.  For example, after class a teacher could take a minute to check in with a boy that has appeared to be more withdrawn than usual.

 

3.  Teach boys to find the “helpers” in life.

Who can he talk to about his feelings?  I was surprised to see the negative association with school counseling when I began a career in Pennsylvania.  I invited students to have lunch with me during the first few months.  A few parents called me about it.  It was a big deal to see the counselor.  After talking to me, they appreciated that I was trying to get to know everyone.  However, it took time.   Call your pediatrician for a referral to a therapist if your child could benefit from counseling.  Counselors can be certified in play therapy, which is a type of therapy that uses sand, puppets, and art.

 

4.  Contact the school counselor to inquire if there is a bereavement support group offered at your child’s school. 

Support groups are beneficial because they support the notion that “I am not the only one going through a loss.”  If a support group is not offered, the school counselor should be familiar with groups available in the community.  During the summer months, bereavement camps might be available in your area. 

 

5.  If you are a teacher/educator in a school, be aware of bullying that may take place during lunch and recess. 

Boys may be vulnerable to bullying because they are in an emotional state.  Grieving children can be the target to bullies.  It is difficult to believe that a child could be teased for the death of a parent, but sadly it is a reality.

 

6.  Continue with a normal routine.

If your boy is involved in a sport or activity, do not take a break from it.  He will benefit socially and emotionally by being around friends and coaches that can show support.  

 

If you are a parent or guardian of a boy that is grieving a loss, let him know that he is not alone.  Tell him there are many helpers in this world that care.

 

http://www.jonihaypatras.com

 

 

Feeling Eggs

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“The spring came suddenly, bursting upon the world as a child bursts into a room, with a laugh and a shout and hands full of flowers.”

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Spring is finally here!  It definitely did not feel like spring last weekend when I visited my family in Ligonier, PA.  My kids were excited to see snow (probably for the last time) and they built a little snowman.  Good-bye snow and hello spring!

I made this nest of feeling eggs for our children’s support group at Safe Harbor.   I bought these eggs last year at a drug store, but purchased more at a craft store last week.  A counselor that works with children could easily make the nest for his or her office.  During our support group meeting, we use the eggs for the opening circle.  Each child passes the nest of eggs around and chooses a “feeling” to discuss.

I personally like to change things up for each season.  Kids love to celebrate the different seasons, so I incorporate different themes every few months.  Another idea is to write questions on paper and place them inside the eggs.  For example, tell me a time that you felt sad/ name a hobby that makes you feel happy/ name a person that acts silly in your family.  If you are a parent, you could use the eggs to begin a conversation about their day when arriving home from school.  This will work well with kids that do not tell you information about their day.  It is also a way to teach younger children about feelings and ways to cope.

 

http://www.jonihaypatras.com

 

 

Shredding Regrets

” My dad used to say that living with regrets was like driving a car that only moved in reverse.”

– Jodi Picoult

I should have……I could have……If I only…….

Words said.  Words not said in time.  A fight before an unexpected death.  Not being able to say good-bye.   Adults and children may experience regrets after a loss.  But the danger is that we can become “stuck” in our grief when the regrets are constantly played over and over again in our mind.  Children often keep these feelings inside.

How can we help children who are having feelings of remorse?  The guardian can start the conversation by sharing an example.  We have discussed regrets in our children’s support group.  I began by sharing not being able to say good-bye to my grandfather before he died.  I explained that it was an unexpected death.  Then every child received a paper and was instructed to write down a regret.  I brought in a powerful shredder from my home office.  At the end of the exercise each child had the opportunity to verbalize his/her regret and then I shredded the paper.  The adult should do the shredding if you do this activity with a group!  There is a sense of relief and control as each paper goes through the shredder.  Indeed, this is a powerful activity to use in a support group or counseling session.  A guardian could also use this activity at home, as long as the adult is manipulating the shredder.

I encourage you, the adult, to try this exercise.  If you do not own a shredder, cut the paper into tiny pieces with scissors.  Let go of any  regrets.  If you are able to let go, then your children will learn from you.

 

http://www.jonihaypatras.com