With her dual degrees and specialized experience with illness and grief, Kelsey incorporates cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, play-based interventions, and a strength-based approach to personalize clinically appropriate interventions that reduce potential fear, distress, and anxiety. She is also a skilled parent coach and has expertise in treating children and adolescents from 2-22 years with generalized anxiety and social issues. Her interventions focus on helping clients to develop more effective coping and communication skills, to nurture their relationships, and to build a stronger sense of self. In addition to offering individual and family therapy, Kelsey is also available for school and community consultation when there is an ill or grieving child, an ill parent, or a community tragedy.
Honesty Really is the Best Policy
When children are forced to come to their own conclusions about what is happening, their imagination may create something far worse than the reality. Follow your child’s lead by assessing what they already know before providing or correcting the information. It is important to use simple, clear, and honest language and know that this may need to be repeated over and over again.
Avoid euphemisms. Even though terms such as cancer, dying, and divorce may seem harsh, they are less likely to lead to misconceptions later. You can always clarify terms along the way but starting with the real words is recommended. For example: “dying means he will not come home; his body no longer works” and “divorce means we couldn’t get along any more, we have decided to live in different houses but we both love you very much.”
When in Doubt, Keep Things Normal
Children benefit from structure and clear expectations. However, it can be very hard to maintain routine for children when disruption is taking place. When this is the case, try your best to prepare them for anticipated changes. If they are able to attend their extra-curricular activities or playdates but will be picked up by a friend or relative instead of their parent, make sure this is communicated to them. Similarly, if bedtime routine or school drop off will look different, just make sure they know who and what to expect. Children are resilient but do best when prepared for change.
Find ways to include them. Children may benefit from having a role or a purpose. They could be responsible for packing a bag or making a card. Try giving them choices when possible to give them a sense of control and mastery during a time that feels out of their control.
Parents, caregivers, and adults have the potential to teach children about healthy expression of all emotions: the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is inevitable that children will experience heartbreak, disappointment, and upset throughout their life trajectory. When faced with these circumstances, it is imperative that they learn how to identify their feelings and express them safely and effectively.
Name your own feelings. Try telling them: “I feel sad because your grandpa is in the hospital.” “I feel worried about everyone’s safety.” Follow these I-feel statements with plans. “But I am going to do everything I can to help you feel safe and cared for during this difficult time.” This encourages children to express their own feelings safely and effectively; to feel comfortable asking questions when they have them because they know it is now okay to talk about the situation.