Our community is hoping for healing.
We’re not even through February and already 2016 has seen the loss of too many young, vibrant lives. These deaths have left wounds across our community, and those wounds will only heal through compassion and the passage of time. But many need help with their hurting now, and parents need to know the signs that their children might be struggling with grief issues.
Tim Vuagniaux, a licensed psychologist at Mefford, Vuagniaux and Associates, frequently works with people in different phases and stages of grief. He said one of the key indicators parents should watch for is a sudden change in their child’s normal behavior.
“They can be withdrawn or more depressed, which is what a person would tend to think, but it also can include other changes like them being more angry, taking risks, just doing things that are not normal for the child where their emotions are shown differently, whether it be excess happiness, excess anger, extreme emotions or changes in the ways they interact with peers,” Vuagniaux said.
Another telling sign is a change in how children interact with family members at home. Vuagniaux also stressed that everyone handles grief differently, so there is no simple solution to providing comfort or guidance.
“There is a normal developmental sequence of what children understand about death. At the beginning, they don’t understand how permanent it is,” he said. “Everybody is different – they have different personalities, different emotional makeups, they’ve had different experiences,” and those all lead to different reactions to the passing of someone they know or someone with whom they relate.
Vuagniaux said when students learn of the death of someone local or who attended a school they know about, their reactions get personal and they start thinking about things they maybe hadn’t considered before.
“It can bring up natural fears that they hadn’t contemplated and they definitely can have a reaction to it,” he said.
One of Vuagniaux’s specialties is critical incident stress debriefings for emergency responders.
“They have learned if they process … what they thought, what they felt, how it impacted them soon after it happened, it helps reduce the chance that they are going to have Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome,” he said. “It’s important to communicate to get those feelings and thoughts out as soon as you can, that’s why it is good for schools to help students process the thoughts and feelings they have, to share with others and to learn from others.”
A local support organization is opening its doors to help local residents who want to work through their emotions. Memory Lane Foundation for Suicide Prevention has support group sessions on the first and third Saturdays of each month, and in the wake of recent events those sessions are open to anyone who has experienced loss or wants to talk about their feelings.
“We want to extend to family and friends … an invitation to join us,” said Amanda Eisenbarth, president of Memory Lane, who added that counselors will be available. “People are going to need to talk about this with other people or counselors … to relate to each other.”
The sessions are at 9 a.m. at the Sedalia Youth Center, 420 W. 16th St.
While parents can provide support for their children, Vuagniaux said adults should not hesitate to turn to school counselors or mental health providers in the community for additional assistance. There are some resources online, but he said it is important to use the right ones. The National Association of School Psychologists website (http://tinyurl.com/griefcounsel) offers good tips for addressing grief among students of all ages.
The bottom line is opening a dialogue, which can be beneficial for both the child and the adult.
“It is good to have communication about it,” Vuagniaux said. “You don’t want to dwell on things … you want to provide support and information about what is going, especially when they have questions and especially at the high school level. Rather than not talk about, you want to have them express their thoughts, their feelings, their fears and their opinions.”
Bob Satnan is the communications director for Sedalia School District 200.