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Archive for the For Teens Category

Published on: November 29, 2015  

Managing Stress

There are so many things that can lead to us feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Stress is something that crosses the lifespan but there are healthy ways to fell decrease the effects of stress and get back to feeling calm, relaxed and focused.

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As you know, our bodies respond to situations differently. If we feel threatened, afraid or anxious, our bodies react giving us the extra resources we need to rise to face the challenge. Our hearts beat a little faster, our blood pressure rises, our focus increases, blood rushes to larger muscle groups, our senses heighten, and we feel more alert. Working properly, our response to stress enhances our ability to perform under pressure.

Our response to stress is rooted in biology and is designed to give your body everything it needs to meet the challenge of a real or perceived threat. Your response to stress can also be mildly activated when faced with doing a presentation in your most challenging class, having a difficult conversation with a close friend, or sitting for mid-terms. The system get activated to help give you the tools needed to overcome a challenge. When the demands have decreased, the system slows down, recedes and waits at the ready until the next challenge surfaces.

This system can be activated activated all the time, sending out stress hormones for weeks, months and been years when you are faced with multiple and long lasting challenges. This can deplete your body’s reserves, leaving you feeling drained, fatigued, anxious and depressed. A host of somatic and health-related problems like high blood pressure and decreased ability to fight infections are likely to follow if this system remains activated.

Unfortunately, managing challenges and diversity is ongoing throughout the lifespan. You may be unable to improve your current circumstance but you can take steps to manage the impact these events have on you. Learning to identify what stresses you and how to take care of yourself physically and emotionally is the key to successfully managing stress. Here are a few helpful tips:

Identify situations & circumstances that cause stress. The key to managing stress is to identify situations that cause you to feel overwhelmed. The first step is to write down what stresses you beginning with what’s most stressful to the least stressful. After that, figure out why these situations situations leave you feeling anxious or overwhelmed.

Make a plan. Once you’ve identified the situations that cause stress, you need to develop a strategy to keep these feelings at bay and not let it get the better of you. Notice how you body feels when feeling stressed. Once identified, take a deep breath and think about something positive and engage in a healthy activity you enjoy. Seek help from trusted adults and peers if you need to. Practicing managing your emotions in situations that are mildly stressful will get you prepared for more intense challenges.

Keep a close eye on your thoughts. The way you think influences the way you perceive yourself and the world. For example, think of change as an opportunity to learn and grow. Also, know that stressors are often temporary and can be managed successfully with the right attitude, preparation, and self-care.

Maintain a healthy sleep-wake schedule. Getting enough sleep is so important for many different reasons. Please resist the urge to stay up all night the night before a test, presentation, or special event. Remaining focused, energized, and clear minded are all linked to good quality sleep.

Maintain a healthy diet. Another way to push back stress is to maintain a healthy diet. You can always visit a dietician or nutritionist to help develop a plan that will work for you. Checking in with your child’s Pediatrician ahead of a visit with a specialist is always recommended.

Maintain a manageable schedule. Piling on activities and commitments is easy to do especially for the ambitious. Be sure to regularly evaluate your level of activity. If you’re stretched too thin, consider cutting out one or two of the activities that may be less meaningful for you leaving those that are the most important on your schedule.

Stress is very real and if not managed can cause some real problems. You’ll feel a lot better once you’ve identified the circumstances that lead to stress and developed a plan manage stress more effectively.

Please contact us if your child is having difficulty managing stressors. One our specialty-trained Psychologists would be happy to help you and your child develop an individualized plan to help manage stress more effectively, 360-236-0206.

With Warmest Regards,

Dave Callies, Psy.D
Child & Adolescent Psychologist
Gyro Psychology Services
360-236-0206
866-616-4976 (gyro)

Published on: October 25, 2015  

Healthy Relationships

There are many different types of relationships; business relationships, relationships between spouses, parents, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances. There are qualities inherent in healthy relationships regardless of the type. The same is true for unhealthy relationships.

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Some are aware that relationships need to be tended to and nurtured. The effort is taken to show how much you value your relationship by being present and making some personal sacrifices so that the relationship can grow and flourish. Some are acutely aware of when the relationships take a turn and it is no longer healthy and personally fullfilling. Pediatric Stethoscope Review, A time and location are decided upon and a conversation happens where you express your concerns, thoughts and feelings and what you want and expect from the relationship. Adjustments are talked about and accepted, or not, and the relationship sets a new course.

Others don’t notice that a relationship is distorted and blurred and end up remaining in an unfulfilling relationship for days, weeks, years, and even decades before their rationale for staying in the relationship is questioned and they communicate what they want, what they need, and a plan on how to achieve that. Or, they ignore what they feel, remain hurt and confused, and rationalize why they should remain in an unhealthy and even toxic relationship. No matter how absurd or obtuse, in spite of the sorrow and loneliness that festers in their heart they remain.

It’s tragic really as choice has a lead role in relationships. One’s choice to be in a fulfilling, healthy and joyful relationship must be shrouded by other needs or desires (e.g., financial reason, “my son needs a father-figure in his life”). Or, perhaps it’s hard to tell the difference between a healthy and unhealthy relationship because a healthy relationship has never been truly experienced, sought after, or enjoyed.

Qualities of unhealthy relationships:
People often talk about unhealthy relationships as being lopsided and distorted in some way. Feeling controlled and hesitant to be honest about your thoughts and feelings for fear of some form of retribution. People in this situation will pretend to have beliefs and values to appease the other person instead of feeling free to express themselves openly and without reservation. The opposite for feeling free is feeling trapped; knowing that something bad might happen if you say or do something that the other person may not like. Along with feeling trapped comes feeling afraid, worried, sad, and angry. Have these feelings and experiences consistently over time, with out resolution, then you’re likely in an unhealthy relationship.

Qualities of healthy relationships:
There are a few qualities that are common in healthy relationships; respect, trust, honesty, and communication, not to mention loyalty and commitment. Individuals who are in healthy relationships want to learn about their partner and what they value are present and emotionally available to them, and openly share thoughts and feelings.

When these components are in place you feel good about yourself, feel comfortable sharing your opinions, feelings, and sensitive stories and memories, without the fear of being judged or ridiculed. Time shared is valued but you can also explore your own personal interests separate from the relationship. Those are the things that we bring back and share which brings new life to the evolving relationship. Have experiences and feelings like this consistently over time then you’re likely in a healthy relationship.

Feeling connected with someone is so important. I hope every one of you is involved in at least one healthy relationship in your life.  Please cherish and nurture what you share!

With Warmest Regards,

Dave Callies, Psy.D.
Chilr & Adolescent Psychologist
Gyro Psychology Services
360-236-0206
866-616-GYRO (4976)

Published on: September 20, 2015  

Improving Your Emotional Intelligence

Intelligence is often measured by a cognitive evaluation that measure one’s nonverbal abilities, verbal ability, working memory, and how quickly one processes information. Test these skills, compare abilities to other children/teens from across the country and you get a number. This number is placed on a scale to measure one’s Intelligence Quotient or IQ. Range to one’s IQ is from Extremely Low to Superior. The test gives general information about a student’s strengths and areas that are more challenging compared to others.

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Measuring one’s intelligence provides just one portion of a child’s abilities. A child’s ability to recognize, tone, rhythm and create music, a natural ability to see how things work mechanically, and many other natural gifts can be considered personal strengths and relative challenges. I know some people who are able to take a number of ingredients and create a series of dishes that are simply amazing and electricians who are able to diagnose an electrical problem and take tactical and creative steps to optimize the system.

When thinking about emotional intelligence, the ability to express and control our emotions is essential, but so is our ability to understand, interpret, and respond to the emotions of others. What it boils down to is our ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions. A number of instruments have been developed by researchers to assess your emotional intelligence. Here’s a quick instrument to assess where your emotional intelligence.

People with strong emotional intelligence find it easy to establish and maintain meaningful relationships, make good choices most of the time, and manage challenging personal and interpersonal situations and circumstances.

There are four separate branches to emotional intelligence:

Perceiving Emotions – understanding nonverbal communication like body language and facial expressions

Reasoning with Emotions – using our emotions to evoke thought and stimulate cognitive activity.

Understanding Emotions – interpreting why you or someone else is having an emotion and interpret what they might mean.

Managing Emotions – Managing emotions is the key component to emotional intelligence. Having good emotional management means that you can regulate the way you feel and your response to the emotions of others (e.g., empathy).

The payoff is that understanding and getting along with others helps us to be successful in almost any area of our life. People are often the gateway to new and diverse experiences, opportunities, activities, academic and vocational opportunities, and broader experiences. Making and maintaining those connecting, resolving conflicts all while making good choices helps to move us forward socially and move forward with opportunities when they arise.

Improving Your Emotional Intelligence

Increase your emotional awareness — Simply noticing your emotions is the first step in developing emotional intelligence. Notice how you body changes when feeling certain emotions, what you’r thinking about and how you behave. Label them in your own way and take pause to recognize how you feel and why. Increasing your awareness of emotions will serve you well a you work toward understanding “how you work” (like an operating manual) and will to improving your understanding of others.

Improve your understanding of how others feel– Being able to imagine what others might be feeling, even if you’re not actually sure, is called empathy. Being empathetic helps others know that you are paying attention to them, their personal response to situations and circumstances, and communicates that you value their experience and their emotional reaction to it.

Managing your emotional reactions- Managing your reactions involves being aware of your feelings, reflecting on why you might be feeling the way you do and then choosing how to express yourself. This ability will serve you well as you can temper a reaction, take time to think the situation through and then choose the right time and circumstance to communicate what you think and feel. If feelings are not tempered you run the risk of allowing your emotions to take over and express yourself in a way that can be perceived as disrespectful, impulsive, and even harmful.

Choose how YOU want to feel- That’s right, you have complete control over how you want to feel in any given situation. You can choose to feel confident and motivate yourself to complete a task and turn feeling disappointed into feeling inspired just by changing the way we think about any given situation. Mastering this ability will benefit you in many wonderful ways.

Please give us a call if your child or teen has difficulty managing their reactions to social and other situations, has difficulty forming and maintaining meaningful relationships, and problem solving, 360-236-0206. We’re here to help!

With Warmest Regards,

Dave Callies, Psy.D.
Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychologist
Gyro Psychology Services
360-236-0206
866-616-GYRO (4976)

Published on: September 20, 2015  

Dad Writes Inspired Song After His Daughter Gets Bullied At School

Bullying is a behavior that I have no tolerance for. It impacts so many children and their ability to learn and feel safe in educational and community environments.

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I first teach children to walk away and seek the support of a trusted adult should a peer say something hurtful. Once they’ve mastered this, I ask them to be assertive and tell the peer whose bullying them that they don’t like or believe what they say and to please stop. If the bullying continues, they seek out the support of an adult.

Ideally, I like to have the child resolve the conflict with the peer either themselves or with adult support (I can take action, in a healthy way, to effectively change my situation or circumstance). I realize that finding a resolution is not always possible.

If the bullying continues, parents need to contact the school administrators, coach or other adults involved, express their concerns and develop a plan to extinguish this behavior once and for all. Please, do not allow this unhealthy situation linger any longer. Call me if you don’t know how to make this happen. I’m happy to help.

The one rule that I stress to children and their parents is that, “If someone touches you in a way that you don’t like, leave the area right away and seek the support of a trusted adult.”

This inspired song was written by a father whose child was bullied at school. My daughter and I listened to it together and she and I agreed that it might help kids change they way they think about themselves, their bodies, and their ability realize their dreams. Enjoy!

With Warmest Regards,

Dave Callies, Psy.D.
Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychologist
Gyro Psychology Services
360-236-0206
866-616-4976 (gyro)

Published on: September 20, 2015  

Cost Vs. Debt? Why Student Choose Community College

Junior year is typically the time when students begin to think about life after high school. Identifying that next step is not always easy, especially if you are the first member of your family to graduate from high school.

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There really are a number of tracks to follow after high school. One is entering the workforce straightaway, another is attending college (public, private, or community), receiving specialized training in an area of your choosing via a technical or or professional school, take some time off, slow things down and think about your options, and the numerous other traditional or non-traditional options (join the rodeo, serve our country via the military, etc).

All choices have their benefits and drawbacks. The option with the biggest drawback is to slow down or even stop pursuing goals and aspirations. The challenge here is that you can become easily distracted by a variety of things, live in environments that may or may not provide a clear sense of structure or have scant resources to help you explore options and move forward in a direction that interests you. You can drift in the waters of uncertainty for years, missing opportunities along the way. You don’t miss out on opportunities because they’re not there for the taking but because you simply don’t see them or know how to respond.

Pressure to make a choice and do something that will move you forward eventually bubbles to the surface. Depending on the source and the pressure, you may respond in any number of ways including feeling scared, desperate and anxious. In response, you may deflect, blame, hide, fight to maintain your current position, flee, or be forced to make a choice, even if the direction does not necessarily benefit you.

In my experience, hiding, fighting, or fleeing are ineffective strategies and typically end up with you being in a more tenuous situation than when you started. You have to see opportunities to seize them and it’s so very hard to do that when you’re hiding, fighting or fleeing.

If this sounds like you, please connect with an adult you trust and ask for help. Finding the strength to take that step forward might be agonizing but the outcome might relieve some pressure and allow you to see your options more clearly.

This interesting article is comprised of a series of interviews with students who have chosen to attend community college. It offers an interesting look into their decision-making process and the perceived benefits for them of taking this course. Enjoy!

With Warmest Regards,

Dave Callies, Psy.D.
Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychologist
Gyro Psychology Services
360-236-0206
866-616-4976 (gyro)

Published on: September 20, 2015  

The Perks of a Private College

My father described his upbringing as challenging and meager as his formative years occurred during the great depression. He hunted for food, fished, and worked on a farm to support his family. Attending and graduating from college with a degree was something he never envisioned as even a remote option.

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When my grandfather signed my father up to serve (17yo) in WWI he was given a series of exams to determine how he could best serve. He tested higher than he thought and was assigned to pilot training in the Navy. He served in Pacific campaign.

When the war ended, he received the GI bill which allowed him to attend college. He never thought that attending college was an option as he was raised in Hackensack, Minnesota by parents who never attended high school needing to work and provide financially for their family.

He was later called up to serve in the Korean war where he served as a code breaker stationed in the Philippines. After the Korean war ended, he attended law school in Iowa.

Soon after his graduation, he had to make a decision; practice in Duluth or move to a larger city with more opportunities. He traveled through the Pacific Northwest while in the Navy and thought that the mountains and the sound were spectacular. He decided to move to Seattle where he took and passed the Washington State bar exam and practiced law for over 30 years.

My father always said that education provides an opportunity to increase possibilities and move beyond one’s current status. The other avenue to increase one’s status was marriage, he said.

Throughout his law career, he made some smart investments and put money aside for each of his children to attend higher education (college). He believed that we would have more opportunities if we graduated from college than if we didn’t. Graduating from high school and college wasn’t an option for me or my younger siblings; we would attend and graduate from college. My siblings and I all did.

I still think that higher education provides more opportunities than someone who does not choose this option. I am also sensitive to individual circumstances, believes and values and realize that going in this direction is not for everyone.

Here’s a thoughtful article about the benefits of attending a private college. The honest reflections of three students who chose this route are the highlight of this piece. Enjoy!

With Warmest Regards,

Dave Callies, Psy.D.
Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychologist
Gyro Psychology Services
360-236-0206
866-616-4976 (gyro)

Published on: September 20, 2015  

Making Sure College Is Worth The Cost

Research has shown that college graduates are have more difficulty finding jobs following achieving their degrees. It’s likely a balance between the number of open positions in any given field and the number of skilled employees vying for each open position.

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In the past, going to a reputable college, university, skilled professional school or being taught, supervised, or mentored by a leader in any given industry would have set you apart from others seeking opportunities in the workforce. Do you believe this still the case?

Here’s a thoughtful article that completes my series on options after high school (even for adults considering getting an advanced degree or receiving specialized vocational training).

The focus on the article is on the value of a college education. Do the opportunities created justify the high price tag? You be the judge…

With Warmest Regards,

Dave Callies, Psy.D.
Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychologist
Gyro Psychology Services
360-236-0206
866-616-4976 (gyro)

Published on: September 20, 2015  

The Problem With Teens Is That They’re Just Too Rational

Here’s an interesting article about teen decision-making coming out of the Journal of Cognitive Development. Researchers found that the decision-making of teens is actually quite rational. The primary factor that influence teens decisions is how their choices may impact them socially.

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The researchers suggest that the rational component of teen deciton-making remain in tact and that rational decision making across domains and contexts be encouraged.

I hope you enjoy this interesting and thought provoking article.

With Warmest Regards,

Dave Callies, Psy.D.
Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychologist
Gyro Psychology Services
360-236-0206
866-616-4976 (gyro)

Published on: August 30, 2015  

Changing Unhealthy Habits

The Difference Between Habits Vs. Routines
The difference between a “habit” and a ”routine” is that habits are a pattern of behaviors that are repeated while routines are sequenced activities that are followed. Habits are typically coping or self-soothing mechanism for children to decrease feelings and anxiety or depression. These behaviors often go hand in hand with changing circumstances that evoke stress. The good news is that habits tend to fade out as children develop and mature.

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Kids and teens can decrease feelings associated with stress in a multitude of ways like exercising, playing with friends, engaging in a fun activity, setting goals, listening to music, and thinking about or planning fun activities and experiences.

What Habits, Like Hair Pulling Looks Like
Nail biting, hair twirling and other habits are simply behaviors that people do to decrease stress, depression, or anxiety. The thing about habits is that the child or teen is often unaware of these behaviors. For example, many years ago when I taught English in Barcelona, a student of mine would wrap her hair around her finger and pull. She’d release her hair and twist and pull again. It was like clockwork. Whenever she was reading or lost in thought she would do this combination of behaviors.

I was struck that she seemingly had no idea she that she was twisting and pulling her hair and was genuinely embarrassed when I brought it to her attention. I thought for sure she would notice the discomfort of pulling her hair but she wasn’t.

When Habits Become More Than Just a Habit
As a child Psychologist, I see kids that take habits a bit further and will actually pull their hair, eyebrows and eyelashes out. When the eyebrows are thinned out or disappear all together, eyebrows are penciled in, hats and wigs are worn, and other creative strategies to hide the bald spots and avoid detection. Like my student, they are mostly unaware of the habit until they look down and see hair on their lap or look in the mirror or when someone notices that something just doesn’t look right. They don’t know how to stop these habits and are acutely aware that something is not quite right which then increases their anxiety and overall stress. This cycle can build up over years and be quite challenging to notice and then treat (there are some very good secret keepers out there).

Anecdotally, I’ve found that this behavior tends to occur when their minds are engaged in another activity like watching television, reading, studying, daydreaming, and being on the computer. Hair pulling, nail biting, nose picking, thumb sucking, cutting, and other habits tend to surface when they are disengaged. It’s like they just “check out” for a period of time. Identifying this process and interrupting it in some way becomes a large part of the treatment process early on. Getting past the shame and embarrassment of what’s happened is sometimes poses the greatest challenge.

Some Solutions
Punishment is not the way to go. Bringing attention to the habit directly might result in the child experiencing more stress and thus perpetuating the behavior. If they feel they might get punished, they might try and hide it, which can become a real challenge later on, especially if there are medical implications. The bottom line is that the punishment approach is not an effective way to decrease the intensity and frequency of habits.

Rewards and praise work. The trick is to do just the opposite of punishment….reward them with praise or tangible rewards for behaviors you want developed. Decide what behaviors you like and then notice your child doing them by verbally praising and rewarding them. Showing how much you value their behavior by developing a rating scale that is posted in a common area of the home where then can choose and stick stickers for doing the desired behavior, earning time on electronics, a trip to the mall, being king or queen of the remote for an evening, choosing a game that the whole family can enjoy, and other rewards can help to decrease the intensity and frequency of these behaviors.

As the rewards or contingency plans are phased, begin to establish concrete goals for doing the desired behavior. I like to start with them doing the behavior through the course of their morning routine. The goals become more challenging as they begin to show mastery. A progression might be them doing the desired behavior from wake-up to lunch time, then wake-up through dinner and then wake-up to bedtime.

After that, I ask them to do the desired behavior for one full day, then three consecutive days, 5 days, 7 days, 10 days, and then 14 days. Reward menus are created for each of these milestones. These “incentivized programs” can be very effective once the desired behavior is identified, praise is used throughout, and parents have good follow through. It’s like magic!

Get your child or teen involved. Getting your child involved in the problem solving process is always helpful. “I wonder what we can do to stop your fingers from being so sore?” Generate some ideas together and praise them for wanting to make a change, their strategy to solve the problem, and the new behavior that you want to see.

Overcoming this habit will likely result is your child feeling a sense of mastery and increased confidence. The great thing is that the personal problem solving process can be applied to other situations and circumstances. This is what we want…effective strategies that can be used across domains and in varied circumstances.

Take a look at yourself. It’s also important that parents pause and look at their own strategies to relieve stress and their habits as their child might learn that what their parents do is the best way to mange stressful situations (eating, chewing nails, etc…). Kids might also try to get their parents’ attention by engaging in certain behaviors because they know they will get a reaction. Understanding your child’s behavior patterns while looking at your own habits plays an important role in your child learning new and more effective strategies to manage change, stress and anxiety.

Adopting new behaviors can get tricky. Managing habits in teens takes a bit more finesse. Often times, the teen will notice that they are pulling out their hair or picking and be motivated to change this behavior due to the social or medical consequences. Once motivated to change, I help them develop a timeline when these behaviors occur to increase their overall awareness.

Remember, sometimes they don’t even know they’re engaged in the behavior until after the fact. Once they are aware of what they are doing, they can take a deep breath and engage in an alternate behavior, think about something else, or connect with an adult and engage in an activity with them. The process of developing an alternate way of coping is the target behavior we want to see.

Motivating…Comfortably. Rewarding this behavior by praise and other means is important to help your teen stay motivated. Over time, the negative behavior will fade away and the new, healthier behavior will take it’s place. The more consistent we are with rewards the praise the greater the likelihood that the undesirable behavior will be “extinguished” and the new behavior become the new norm.

On the bright side, most childhood habits disappear by the time they enter Kindergarten or the 1st grade because the child has found other ways to manage uncomfortable emotions and circumstances.

Habits may need additional attention if they negatively affect a child’s social relationships, and impacts their functioning at home, in school, or in community-based activities. If this is the case, seeking the support of a professional who has experience managing these behaviors is recommended. You can learn more about hair pulling (Tricotillomania), see book recommendations and other resources in the Helpful Resources section of our website.

If your child’s functioning is negatively impacted by a habit please give us a call, 360-236-0206. We’re here to help!
With Warmest Regards,

Dave Callies, Psy.D.
Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychologist
Gyro Psychology Services
360-236-0206
866-616-4976 (gyro)

Published on: August 16, 2015  

Helping Teens Through the Grieving Process

It’s never easy to learn that someone close to you dies. It’s heart wrenching and so difficult to comprehend why they died when they did and what life will be like without the friend or family member in our lives. I will never forget the moment that my Dad died. We were fishing in Alaska two weeks before he died from liver cancer. It was so sudden and unexpected.

I’ll never forget the look on his face when he took his last breath, what I said to him just before he passed, and the reaction of each of my family members moments after his passing. We were all adults at the time and have grieved his loss in different ways over the years. The process is ongoing.

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I can’t imagine what it must be like for a teen to lose a parent, a relative or close friend. This developmental stage is often filled with emotional turbulence and uncertainty where there are many more questions than answers.

When my friend died, the rest of the world kept going and no one knew what I was going through. No one could understand the pain I was feeling. I wanted the world to stop and I just wanted to scream out, ‘Doesn’t anyone realize that I am hurt?’ I kept looking at people and thinking, ‘You don’t have a care, and look at me, my friend just died.”

As adults, we want to make things better and may tend to tell a teen what to do to relieve the pain or other strong feelings associated with the loss. Being a companion as opposed to a director in this process may be more helpful for teens than taking on a more directive role. It’s important that adults are aware of the personal issues they bring to the situation as their attitudes and experiences will have an impact the way they interact and relate with the person grieving.

What to consider when supporting a teen through the grieving process:
First off, grief is our natural response to loss. The emotions, thoughts, and physical reactions can be intense, overwhelming, and difficult to make sense of and manage. Intense emotions may lead to feeling out of control, that you’re losing your mind, your life is unraveling and fractured in some way. Then there’s fear…

The feeling don’t suddenly evaporate or go to a special compartment in our brain. They need to be understood, managed and integrated. The grieving process is all about mourning the loss of someone who was meaningful for us and learning about how to adjust to the feelings and thoughts associated with the loss.

Helping teens to realize that strong feelings are a natural reaction to loss may help them put these feelings into perspective (“It’s common for people to feel this way when someone dies. I’m not the only one who feels like this”).

Everyone grieves differently. We all have different experiences with people in our lives. Specific experiences may be meaningful for us and less meaningful for others. That’s one of the reasons why the grieving process is different for each person.

The process or grieving involves emotions, physical sensations, thoughts and behaviors surfacing in response to death, the circumstances around the death, the relationship with the deceased and the thoughts about what life might be like without that person in our lives. One may react to death and loss by becoming sad and angry while someone else may respond with laughter and find humor in the loss. These responses might change over time as the intensity of the emotions subside and we begin to look and experience the loss from a different viewpoint.

Adults can assist teens though this process by taking on the role of listener who yearns to understand their experience while allowing them to teach us about how they are making sense and coping with the loss.

There is no set script for the grieving process. The choices that we make through our process of grieving impacts us and others around us. Coping with death and loss does not follow a specific and clear-cut course and there are no hard and fast rules about how to grieve.

There are healthy and unhealthy ways to react to change. Talking with trusted friends and adults, developing a journal about how you are managing your personal loss, writing songs about the beloved or expressing emotions through other creative outlets like painting, sculpture, poetry, and talking about emotions rather than holding them inside or hiding from them are healthier ways to manage strong emotions.

There are other choices that are unhealthy and even destructive that may result in short and long-term consequences. For example, some teens may try to manage loss by turning to alcohol and drugs, promiscuity, withdrawal from interacting with friends and family, sleeping and eating too much or too little, engaging in high-risk behaviors and other strategies that temporarily decrease the intensity of uncomfortable feelings associated with the loss. Please seek support should your child engage in high-risk or destructive behaviors.

“My friend went crazy into drugs, sex, and skipping school after her boyfriend got killed in a skiing accident. She stopped talking about him. Now she’s kicked out of school and is pregnant by a guy she hates. Since my boyfriend’s car accident, I know what can happen if I make wrong choices like her.” Sara, 18

Every death is unique and is experienced differently. The grieving process for teens differs according to many factors including their personality, coping skills learned, and the relationship they had with their grandparent, parent, sibling, friend, relative, or anyone who they had a meaningful relationship with.

“Expect the unexpected. Emily actually danced and sang after I told her that her mother died. I was shocked. Later I realized the relief we both felt. The relationship had been filled with her alcoholism, lies and illness.” Father of Emily, 17

Every person within a family might react to the loss differently at different times. One family member might cry, while another is angry and seeks vengeance for the loss, while another might withdraw, hide and not talk about their feelings or experiences. The variety of reactions might add tension and conflict between family members in an already stressed environment.

It’s important to honor each persons response to death and their way of coping with the overwhelming feelings at that time. Be aware that our responses to loss may change from one minute to the next.

Noticing behaviors is a way to increase the likelihood that they will reach out and share their experience. For example, you might say, “You seem sad today…”, “I noticed that you’ve been sleeping a lot lately…”, or “You’ve been going out with friend a lot lately…”. If they respond, please quiet your voice and be a good listener. You’ll communicate that you are there for them and that you want to understand without judgement or critique. They do enough of that on their own…

The grieving process is influenced by many circumstances and events. The impact of a death relates to a combination of factors including:

  • The social support systems available for the teen (family, friends and/or community)
  • The circumstances of the death – how, where and when the person died
  • Whether or not the young person unexpectedly found the body
  • The nature of the relationship with the person who died – harmonious, abusive, conflictual, unfinished, communicative
  • The teen’s level of involvement in the dying process
  • The emotional and developmental age of the teen
  • The teen’s previous experiences with death

Grief is an ongoing and evolving process. There isn’t any end point to the grieving process. It does change in intensity over time as it takes on a different shape and character. It never seems to go away though.

“I’ve had people say that you’ve got to go on, you’ve got to get over this. I just want to shout, ‘You’re wrong! Grief never ends.’ I don’t care what they say.” Philip, 13

Please give us a call if you know of a teen or child who is grieving and needs some support through this process, 360-236-0206. We’re here to help!

With Warmest Regards,

Dave Callies, Psy.D.
Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychologist
Gyro Psychology Services
360-236-0206
866-616-GYRO (4976)

Teen quotes courtesy of the Dougy Center.