Grief & Kids (MN. Parent Magazine)

Publication: MN. Parent

Grief and Kids

Contributing Writer: Kelly Jo McDonnell

As I stood in the quiet Iowa cemetery, I watched my 10-year-old son as he flitted around my Father’s tombstone. Grandpa had suddenly and unexpectedly had an aortic aneurism this year, and before we knew it, was gone from our lives. My sons Grandpa was a larger than life personality, and while I wrestled with my own grief, I worried about the large void left for my son, who was 10 and had been very close to his Grandpa. The whole experience was so sudden and a blur, and I wondered if I had traumatized his grief process since I was still running to catch up with my own.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Hayden catching the glowing fireflies that had popped out during the twilight hours. He was cupping them to his mouth, saying something, and then releasing them into the air. As I shuffled closer, curious, I over heard him whispering to the fireflies “Protect Grandpa”, before releasing them. That bittersweet moment is etched into my memory, and for some reason, left me feeling a bit more peaceful. Perhaps Hayden was coping better than I had thought. Better than his Mother, anyway.

Grief is a tricky business, for both adults and children. And let’s face it; nothing prepares you for this business until your knee-deep in it. But don’t make the mistake in thinking that kids don’t grasp the grieving process. Kids can grieve at any age, and it depends on their age, developmental stage and life experiences.

Inez Bersie-Mize, a licensed family therapist with Midwest Center in St. Paul, agrees that the child’s age makes a big difference. “Their cognitive abilities, and the ability to understand and comprehend makes a big difference,” she explained, “around 7 and 8 they still have that magical thinking, that the person could come back, or that ‘Grandpa looks like he’s sleeping’. It’s very common for that age to have that thinking. Their capacity to tolerate pain, and whom they have around them also makes a difference. Their relationship to the person who died comes into play. Kids are very tuned into their sense of pain, and if they think the person died, had a great deal of pain or trauma, then they’ll have a harder time getting over it then someone who died in their sleep.”

Come to think of it, son Hayden’s first questions about Grandpa’s passing was pain-related. Questions such as “Did it hurt?” “Did Grandpa know what was happening to his heart?” Other kids, who have witnessed someone battle an illness, deal with different questions. When Molly Sproull lost her Father to bone cancer, her son was 6 and daughter was in 3rd grade. “My Father was in hospice, so we all knew it was coming,” Sproull remembered, “So Ben got to say goodbye. I didn’t really pay much attention growing through the process. He was on his best behavior (during the illness) because of what I was going through. But after the funeral, that’s when he really started acting out.”

Sproull said the calls from teacher started coming soon after the funeral, and involved throwing objects and reacting to other kids. “I look back, and I realize he was grieving,” said Sproull, “he was just not himself. I always tried to answer his questions (about Grandpa) without scaring him. It was hard. My daughter Abby had more tears. She understood a bit more, and I didn’t really see any negative reactions with her. She was more Mothering to me, asking if I was OK. She recognized I was grieving, even as a 3rd grader.”

Bersie-Mize said that’s the fine line that parents must walk while going through their own grief process. “It’s better to explain it then to hide it,” stressed Bersie-Mitze, “they need to know what’s happening, what the wake will look like, and have a choice to go or not to go. They need to be informed. A lot of kids fear crying, but when everyone else is crying, it helps them make that decision. They need to be informed.”

Brent and Christie Cuttell, Cottage Grove, are advocates of being informed. Brent lost his Father last year after an extended illness, and the couple’s three children range in age from 7 to teenagers.   “Kids grieve in a similar sense that we do, but it’s more pronounced. Everything a child does is more pronounced…they are louder and faster than we are, and their minds are sharper,” said Brent Cuttell, “youngest son Camden was 7 and a half when Grandpa died. He’s a visual kid, so whenever he sees a red hat, like his Grandpa Cuttell used to wear, he gets emotional. He’ll say ‘I miss Grandpa’, or “That guy in the red hat looks just like Grandpa’. They figure out that stepping stone – you have a Grandpa, you might even have a Great Grandpa. Now that Grandpa’s gone, that void is filled with Dad or Mom. That stepping stone and known, rock solid entity is gone.”

Christie Cuttell, who is a social worker at Psyche Recovery, Inc. in St. Paul, says her knowledge of the grief business helped her cope with her own family’s journey. “Americans are horrible at death and dying,” she explained, “we don’t like to talk about it, we don’t plan for it, yet it’s the only thing that is absolutely sure. It’s very frustrating when you work on death and dying. The more open we are with our kids and each other, the smoother it is going to go.”

She said youngest son Camden’s grief comes and goes in short waves and bursts, usually associated with visual triggers. “At first he was very careful not to grieve in front of us,” remembered Christie, “he didn’t want to upset people more. But when he went back to school and the teacher had given him an assignment to write about feelings, Camden could only get through 2 sentences, before he burst out crying. I do think kids generally grieve better than adults. They are not at all selfish. Their genuine, and to them, it’s very literal.”

The Cuttell’s said their older teenagers took on a different grieving pattern. “Myles, being the boy, was more non-verbal,” remembered Christie, “but his actions were kinder. He was not causing trouble, and would let things go that he usually wouldn’t. He was just quieter. Daughter Abby just cried her brains out, night and day. The teenaged kids had a very difference connection with Grandpa, as they are so much older than Camden. They saw Grandpa healthy, and he wasn’t sick in their memories.”

“Some of it is really just talking with them,” explained Bersie-Mize, “it really is. It’s OK that it hurts or that it’s scary. It’s OK to say those things to kids. The more they are involved in the planning, the better. It’s important not to exclude them from your own grief. Explain how you feel inside, so they don’t feel alone or isolated.”

Through the whole process, watch for warning signs of something deeper than “healthy” grief. “Watch how long they are staying in grief,” explained Bersie-Mize, “and if they are functioning in school and with friends. Are they isolating, or getting angry. Things like that should not be ignored, and sometime professional support is needed.” Other factors to watch include inability to sleep, or loss of appetite, acting much younger for an extended period, repeated statements for wanting to join the dead person, or excessively imitating the deceased family member.

She went on to explain that it wasn’t until around the 1950’s or later that children were included at all in the whole grieving process, and until then was kept very separated from the whole ordeal. “Including them in the process, perhaps picking out flowers, or writing poems to put in the casket, are all closure activities. Talk about how sad it feels, and the hurt inside. Let them see the tears.”

With our family, we included all the grandsons as much as we could in the planning, and communicated what would be going on during the wake and the funeral itself. Hayden had the choice of viewing Grandpa during the wake. He sat in the back of the church in the last pew for a short time before making up his mind and marching up the aisle resolutely next to me. We also let each of the grandsons choose a “Grandpa treasure” from his dresser, and they all carried them in their pockets during the funeral. I noticed Hayden rubbing his Grandpa’s favorite pocketknife during the funeral.

After our visit to the cemetery that day, Hayden asked if Grandpa had known we were there visiting him, or if he was too busy up in heaven.  voyagaire 56

I guess only the fireflies and Grandpa really know the answer to that question.

 

 

 

Side Bar:

Kids books that help cope with grief:

 

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf – Leo Buscaglia

 

The Next Place – Warren Hanson

 

The Old Coyote by Nancy Wood

 

Papa’s New Home – Jessica Lynn Curtis

Kids & Ice & Fish? (MN. Parent-Jan.)

It’s cold outside. But we Minnesotan’s have plenty to keep us busy. We have 10,000 lakes (now ice) and they are full of fish. How about combining the two for some family ice fishing? Not sure where to start?us-fish

It’s not as hard as you think. Here are some hard and fast pointers on making it happen:

  • Getting Started: get a guide (and/or a seasoned Grandpa, Uncle or friend)

Especially if this is the family’s first time out, a fishing guide is worth his/her weight in gold (and fishing gear). And it’s much more economical that one would think. A fishing guide will take care of a whole list of fishing gear families may not have thought about, including:

  • Ice fishing house – (guides will usually have permanent ones that will keep the wind and cold at bay, and perhaps even have a little heater inside) If not, sitting on a bucket on the ice works well enough, too.
  • Rods – The guide will use a short rod if your in an ice house; they let the fisherman sit closer to the ice hole, and they also let the fisherman set the hook easier. Longer rods can be used if you’re sitting on a bucket out on the ice. (Home Depot has nice 5 gallon buckets for cheap that can be used to carry your gear, then to sit on)
  • Ice Drill – This is for cutting through the ice to fish, and it also helps to have a slush remover to clean out the ice hole. Remember: four inches of ice and deeper for walking on the ice, 6 inches for an ATV, 12 inches for a car or pick up.
  • Forceps/needle nose pliers – your guide will use these to help you with hook removal
  • Bait – should be kept on the small side, and include minnows, crawlers or small moth larvae (otherwise known as waxies) but your guide will have all the bait on hand already. The guide will also have ice-fishing lures on hand as well.
  • Know your fish: the guide will also act as a teacher of sorts, and be able to help out with fish identification. Did your son just catch a perch? Or your daughter a walleye? Might be fun to get a Fish ID book to bring along (one that can be read with mittens on)

* Safety. Clothes and Manners

  • Know where you are on the ice, and set boundaries. (ie: look for holes in the ice) Although your guide will know, it helps for everyone to know the area-carry a phone, compass, map or GPS unit. The guide will have your locations mapped out for you, and will know the best “honey holes” to fish. Ice Fishing takes place on ponds and lakes of all sizes, with safe ice of course. Larger water bodies will provide more of a diverse fishing opportunity for your kids. Most state-owned lakes do allow ice fishing, while county or municipally owned waters may prohibit it.
  • Keeping your feet warm and dry will be the first priority-get the kids (and yourself) heavy, felt-lined boots and wear thick, wool socks. Maybe tuck an extra pair along just in case of cold, little toes. Stocking caps are a must, try a knitted or fleecy hat that covers ALL the ear. A scarf or muffler helps, as well. For gloves or mittens, remember that mittens tend to trap more warmth than gloves, so find some mittens that are thick. Layer up thin gloves underneath the mittens for some extra warmth. This also works well when the kids have to take off the mittens to either tie a knot, or take a fish off the hook.
  • Manners aren’t just for the table. The fishing guide can be helpful with etiquette, but some rules of the road include: don’t set up too close to another fisherman unless you ask first, keep your fish in a bucket with some water and slush or release them before they freeze; don’t blast your radio or litter; and the big one: Do not make a lot of noise, it can spook the fish!

* This is Fun Remember….

Keep in mind these are kids that are fishing. Keep the sessions short, 4 hours max. Plan a big lunch for a slow bite day, maybe even bring a grill and have a hot dog cookout on the ice! Some other tricks for kids include having them use a hand auger and let them try making the hole; be sure to pack some warm, sweet liquids like hot chocolate; try out a underwater camera (like the AquaVue) to get a real view of what’s happening underneath the ice.

If families are interested in more group events, check out the Minnesota DNR’s website at www.dnr.state.mn.us/events and/or www.dnr.state.mn.us/minnaqua/icefishing for a complete calendar listing of winter ice fishing events, including Winter Trout Fishing, Ice Fishing 101, Fishing Derbies, and Take a kid ice fishing clinics. For ice safety, check out www.dnr.state.mn.us/safety

 

 

To hoard, or not to hoard?

 

Is your child a hoarder? (MN. Parent Magazine)

By: Kelly Jo Mcdonnell

How to tell when kid collections become unhealthy

Moss-covered rocks. Dusty LEGO sets. Countless sticks, crammed into a corner. These are the “treasures” of my 11-year-old’s room.

I’m well aware of his love for stuff. It’s a fun ritual when he’ll show me his collection of rocks, cards or erasers. But I’m starting to wonder if his little collections are getting out of control. Desk drawers are chock full of pencils, gum wrappers and toys. Boxes and containers are filled with knickknacks of every kind, including old Christmas decorations he didn’t want to put away.

When I try to get rid of something, he’ll try to grab it out of the garbage, insisting that he still needs it. It got me thinking: Kids don’t hoard like those folks on hoarding TV shows, do they? As I stand in the middle of his room, wondering where to start, I think: Maybe those adults on the TV started out just like this.

When collecting isn’t really collecting

Kids like collecting. In fact, it’s a classic rite of passage for kids and a normal part of child development.

In his book, Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, Randy Frost explains: “Collecting is very important to kids, starting at about age 2, when they learn the meaning of the word ‘mine,’ up until early teenage years.”

But there’s a fine line between creating collections and hoarding, according to the Bio Behavioral Institute. If your child collects and displays treasures — and is proud of his or her collections — that’s a good sign. And the same goes for kids who are happy to talk about their stuff and want others to be interested in it, too. Healthy collections will be organized (most of the time) and ready for display. Some kids even enjoy budgeting their allowance so they can add to their collections.

Hoarders are different, according to the institute, a private mental health practice in New York. Hoarders associate their collections with embarrassment, and they tend to feel uncomfortable when others see or touch their things. Collecting is something the child wants to do. Hoarding is something children feel they need to do.

Hoarding, according to the American Psychiatric Association, is a complex disorder and is characterized by persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of the value others may attribute to these possessions.

Different than adult hoarding

Hoarding among kids tends to be more contained than adult hoarding, which can spread across an entire home, according to the New York-based Child Mind Institute.

Children, for example, might hoard under their bed or in areas of their bedroom. And it might not be immediately obvious to an observer because disorganization is so common among children.

Hoarding in kids is more about difficulty letting go, rather than acquisition, according to the Boston-based International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation. Young kids don’t usually have access to money and transportation that would let them shop all the time. For young children, hoarding may look different, because parents control what kids can buy, and the level of clutter in their rooms.

Parents should watch for intense attachments to objects and the tendency to stockpile items. Stockpiling can include clothing, food, toys, trash (such as gum and candy wrappers), rocks and even cups of sand.

Hoarding can start young

Hoarding affects an estimated 2 percent to 5 percent of the adult population, according to the International OCD Foundation. And the disorder can begin early in life. More than 40 percent of adult hoarders first start showing hoarding behavior by the time they’re 15 years old. Though hoarding behaviors typically start around age 13, children as young as 3 can suffer from the disorder.

Codi Williamson, a third-grade teacher and mother of two in Pataskala, Ohio, said she and her husband constantly struggle with their 4-year-old son’s stockpiles of stuff.

“As long as I can remember, anything that he could fit into a container and carry around, was always with him. He would be obsessed with it,” Williamson said. “He loves grocery bags with handles.” Williamson said her son carries around normal items such as toys and cards, but also keeps used flossers and anything else he can find to jam into a box or bag.

“He doesn’t like to get rid of it,” she said. “About once a month, we go through it, sometimes when he’s not looking.” Williamson and her husband also try to reason with their son to explain why it’s important to let things go.

Panic is a warning sign

If a child doesn’t just protest, but panics when asked to get rid of old, unnecessary possessions or clutter, it can be a warning sign, said Katherine Quie, a child psychologist at Psych Recovery in St. Paul.
“A dead give away is when the child can’t tolerate others touching it or cleaning it up. They feel really panicky at the idea of anything happening to it,” Quie said. “The child is putting too much meaning on belongings. It’s so meaningful, that they literally panic if they get rid of it. They might not want to leave their stuff, so they carry it with them.”

Quie stresses that it’s normal for kids to be upset when they have to say goodbye to some toys, like at a garage sale, or donating an old, favorite stuffed animal. But, she said, parents can usually talk a child through it. “With a child [with hoarding tendencies], all the normal talking through does not work.”

Quie explains that kids will hoard for different reasons. On several occasions, she has worked with young children who hoarded food in large quantities due to food scarcity experiences in their pasts.

“A lot of times,” she said, “the kids don’t understand why they’re doing it.”

Symptoms

According to the New York-based Child Mind Institute, mental health providers check for three principal characteristics when diagnosing hoarding — persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value; cluttered living spaces from having so many possessions; and significant distress or functional impairment.

While a rock or stamp collector might search out specific items for his collection, a hoarder will acquire items seemingly at random and then struggle when asked to part with them. The most notable sign of hoarding among children, according to the institute, is the emotional reaction to their possessions, according to the institute. Children with a hoarding disorder are constantly worried about their possessions — so much that it interferes with their functioning and becomes a major source of tension between them and their parents.

Treatment

For children age 8 and younger, psychologists often work with parents to set up a behavioral plan, to first stop a child from acquiring new things and then use incentives to work on gradually getting rid of some of the hoarded objects. For older children, cognitive behavioral therapy can be helpful. Children can learn to understand why they feel compelled to hoard and how to decide which possessions are worth keeping and which should be discarded. Medications can also be incorporated into treatment, according to the institute, which offers a mental health symptom checker at childmind.org.

Prevention

If your child isn’t showing signs of obsessive-compulsive hoarding, but you feel overwhelmed by the amount kid collections in your home (and want to discourage any tendencies toward hoarding), try these tips from Jan Lehman, a professional organizer with Can the Clutter (cantheclutter.com), which serves clients in Minnesota and Oregon.

  • Create a permanent “donate” bin or space in your home to collect old toys and other unneeded items. Teach kids to put toys and clothes in the bin regularly.
  • Be sure all storage containers are easy to use, including open bins versus bins with tight-fitting lids.
  • Organize various spaces with your child. Use timers and make it game: “Let’s see how much we can organize in 10 minutes!”
  • Let your child create a memorabilia box for some of their precious items. Store it somewhere outside of your child’s room.
  • Ask for gifts that provide experiences, rather than toys, such as tickets to a movie or memberships to a museum.
  • Give detailed instructions: “Pick up your clothes and put them away,” instead of general commands: “Clean your room.”

Resources

Kelly Jo McDonnell lives in Lino Lakes with her son, 14. She is a freelance writer and a producer/writer with Minnesota Bound on KARE 11 TV.

 

Is your child a hoarder?

 

Is your child a hoarder?

By: Kelly Jo Mcdonnell

How to tell when kid collections become unhealthy

Moss-covered rocks. Dusty LEGO sets. Countless sticks, crammed into a corner. These are the “treasures” of my 11-year-old’s room.

I’m well aware of his love for stuff. It’s a fun ritual when he’ll show me his collection of rocks, cards or erasers. But I’m starting to wonder if his little collections are getting out of control. Desk drawers are chock full of pencils, gum wrappers and toys. Boxes and containers are filled with knickknacks of every kind, including old Christmas decorations he didn’t want to put away.

When I try to get rid of something, he’ll try to grab it out of the garbage, insisting that he still needs it. It got me thinking: Kids don’t hoard like those folks on hoarding TV shows, do they? As I stand in the middle of his room, wondering where to start, I think: Maybe those adults on the TV started out just like this.

When collecting isn’t really collecting

Kids like collecting. In fact, it’s a classic rite of passage for kids and a normal part of child development.

In his book, Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, Randy Frost explains: “Collecting is very important to kids, starting at about age 2, when they learn the meaning of the word ‘mine,’ up until early teenage years.”

But there’s a fine line between creating collections and hoarding, according to the Bio Behavioral Institute. If your child collects and displays treasures — and is proud of his or her collections — that’s a good sign. And the same goes for kids who are happy to talk about their stuff and want others to be interested in it, too. Healthy collections will be organized (most of the time) and ready for display. Some kids even enjoy budgeting their allowance so they can add to their collections.

Hoarders are different, according to the institute, a private mental health practice in New York. Hoarders associate their collections with embarrassment, and they tend to feel uncomfortable when others see or touch their things. Collecting is something the child wants to do. Hoarding is something children feel they need to do.

Hoarding, according to the American Psychiatric Association, is a complex disorder and is characterized by persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of the value others may attribute to these possessions.

Different than adult hoarding

Hoarding among kids tends to be more contained than adult hoarding, which can spread across an entire home, according to the New York-based Child Mind Institute.

Children, for example, might hoard under their bed or in areas of their bedroom. And it might not be immediately obvious to an observer because disorganization is so common among children.

Hoarding in kids is more about difficulty letting go, rather than acquisition, according to the Boston-based International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation. Young kids don’t usually have access to money and transportation that would let them shop all the time. For young children, hoarding may look different, because parents control what kids can buy, and the level of clutter in their rooms.

Parents should watch for intense attachments to objects and the tendency to stockpile items. Stockpiling can include clothing, food, toys, trash (such as gum and candy wrappers), rocks and even cups of sand.

Hoarding can start young

Hoarding affects an estimated 2 percent to 5 percent of the adult population, according to the International OCD Foundation. And the disorder can begin early in life. More than 40 percent of adult hoarders first start showing hoarding behavior by the time they’re 15 years old. Though hoarding behaviors typically start around age 13, children as young as 3 can suffer from the disorder.

Codi Williamson, a third-grade teacher and mother of two in Pataskala, Ohio, said she and her husband constantly struggle with their 4-year-old son’s stockpiles of stuff.

“As long as I can remember, anything that he could fit into a container and carry around, was always with him. He would be obsessed with it,” Williamson said. “He loves grocery bags with handles.” Williamson said her son carries around normal items such as toys and cards, but also keeps used flossers and anything else he can find to jam into a box or bag.

“He doesn’t like to get rid of it,” she said. “About once a month, we go through it, sometimes when he’s not looking.” Williamson and her husband also try to reason with their son to explain why it’s important to let things go.

Panic is a warning sign

If a child doesn’t just protest, but panics when asked to get rid of old, unnecessary possessions or clutter, it can be a warning sign, said Katherine Quie, a child psychologist at Psych Recovery in St. Paul.
“A dead give away is when the child can’t tolerate others touching it or cleaning it up. They feel really panicky at the idea of anything happening to it,” Quie said. “The child is putting too much meaning on belongings. It’s so meaningful, that they literally panic if they get rid of it. They might not want to leave their stuff, so they carry it with them.”

Quie stresses that it’s normal for kids to be upset when they have to say goodbye to some toys, like at a garage sale, or donating an old, favorite stuffed animal. But, she said, parents can usually talk a child through it. “With a child [with hoarding tendencies], all the normal talking through does not work.”

Quie explains that kids will hoard for different reasons. On several occasions, she has worked with young children who hoarded food in large quantities due to food scarcity experiences in their pasts.

“A lot of times,” she said, “the kids don’t understand why they’re doing it.”

Symptoms

According to the New York-based Child Mind Institute, mental health providers check for three principal characteristics when diagnosing hoarding — persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value; cluttered living spaces from having so many possessions; and significant distress or functional impairment.

While a rock or stamp collector might search out specific items for his collection, a hoarder will acquire items seemingly at random and then struggle when asked to part with them. The most notable sign of hoarding among children, according to the institute, is the emotional reaction to their possessions, according to the institute. Children with a hoarding disorder are constantly worried about their possessions — so much that it interferes with their functioning and becomes a major source of tension between them and their parents.

Treatment

For children age 8 and younger, psychologists often work with parents to set up a behavioral plan, to first stop a child from acquiring new things and then use incentives to work on gradually getting rid of some of the hoarded objects. For older children, cognitive behavioral therapy can be helpful. Children can learn to understand why they feel compelled to hoard and how to decide which possessions are worth keeping and which should be discarded. Medications can also be incorporated into treatment, according to the institute, which offers a mental health symptom checker at childmind.org.

Prevention

If your child isn’t showing signs of obsessive-compulsive hoarding, but you feel overwhelmed by the amount kid collections in your home (and want to discourage any tendencies toward hoarding), try these tips from Jan Lehman, a professional organizer with Can the Clutter (cantheclutter.com), which serves clients in Minnesota and Oregon.

  • Create a permanent “donate” bin or space in your home to collect old toys and other unneeded items. Teach kids to put toys and clothes in the bin regularly.
  • Be sure all storage containers are easy to use, including open bins versus bins with tight-fitting lids.
  • Organize various spaces with your child. Use timers and make it game: “Let’s see how much we can organize in 10 minutes!”
  • Let your child create a memorabilia box for some of their precious items. Store it somewhere outside of your child’s room.
  • Ask for gifts that provide experiences, rather than toys, such as tickets to a movie or memberships to a museum.
  • Give detailed instructions: “Pick up your clothes and put them away,” instead of general commands: “Clean your room.”

Resources

Kelly Jo McDonnell lives in Lino Lakes with her son, 11. She is a freelance writer and a producer/writer with Minnesota Bound on KARE 11 TV.