(Madison, WI): October 3-9 is Mental Health Awareness Week, and following recent, tragic events in our community with the fatal shooting of an Oregon middle school student and a fatal car accident that took the lives of three area high school students, feelings of grief are at the forefront of many community members minds.
These tragic events may be particularly hard for area children, as they deal with the loss of their peers. Medical Director at UnityPoint Health – Meriter’s Child and Adolescent Psychiatry program, Dr. Katie Schmitt, offers a few resources for helping children through grief.
- Keep an open line of communication for children to discuss their feelings.
- If a child is hesitant to verbally discuss their emotions, try creative expressing, like allowing children to write or draw about their feelings.
- Share your own personal experiences with these emotions, to help validate the feelings they are experiencing.
“Just be patient, validate their feelings, normalize their feelings, especially those ones about sadness, frustration, fear and anger,” said Schmitt. “Just sit and listen, and provide support.”
Signs of grief in children can manifest in various ways, like expressing sadness for a few weeks and even a few months. It’s important to monitor children for prolonged periods of sadness that begin to affect their everyday life, like a loss of interest in things they enjoy, trouble sleeping or loss of appetite. Some children may struggle with attending school or with school work.
If children are displaying these signs of grief, Schmidt says it could be time to reach out to a medical professional. Many schools have mental health professionals on staff to assist or visit a primary care doctor.
“Don’t try to ignore it or push it to the side, just embrace it and support your child through this time,” said Schmitt.