Dr. Richard Tedeschi, Professor of Psychology, University of North Carolina, Charlotte discusses how positive transformation can follow a traumatic event.
When bad things happen, people often feel like it will break them — a serious illness, death of a loved one or an unfortunate event. However, scientific studies show most people recover from major life crises transformed AND even stronger than before.
This phenomenon is called Posttraumatic Growth (PTG). In this Soaringwords video, Lisa chats with Dr. Tedeschi, a leading expert in the field, who discusses how PTG is a process people go through and a place they get to when they come to recognize that they have been transformed.
PTG refers to a positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event. Posttraumatic Growth is not simply a return to baseline, the way your life was before the traumatic event. Instead it is an experience of IMPROVEMENT after the traumatic event that may be extremely profound, even life changing.
Dr. Ron Taffel is one of the most eclectic and practical child-rearing experts in the country and the author of two best-selling books, Parenting by Heart: How to be in Charge, Stay Connected and Instill Your Values- When it Feels Like You’ve Got 15 Minutes a Day (Addison Wesley) and Why Parents Disagree: How Women and Men Parent Differently and How We Can Work Together (Morrow). He has also been featured on 20/20, The Today Show, CNN, and hundreds of radio shows.
Solid historical evidence shows that children’s sense of self-esteem, self-worth, mood, and anxiety lifts when given the opportunity to help others. In fact, Freud instructed parents of an anxious and ill child to purchase a dog for the girl. The child moved beyond her fears by focusing on caring for her pet. Since this time, parents and professionals have found, over and over again, that vulnerable or stressed children (and adults) are relieved of burdens when offered the opportunity to care for others. Unfortunately, today’s pop culture promotes the notion that kids just want to consume things. This focus on “stuff” and material acquisition makes us forget that children’s powerful and inate desire to help others is still intact. It is compelling to remember that even children who are clearly suffering will be relieved of their burdens when they can do something to help someone else.
Acts of kindness give children a sense of power at a point when they are feeling the worst sense of powerlessness. The hospital environment isolates children — machines beeping at all hours of the day and night, tubes, procedures, and too much time away from friends. They feel so many negative things inside because “nothing seems to be working right” in their body and they have no control. Doing an act of kindness helps children feel empowered. This feeling is contagious. It makes them feel more in control and more powerful at a difficult time.
Children identify with each other. Doing something positive for another ill child reduces feelings of isolation and despair. From nursery school through college, children are surrounded by their peers. Their self-identity is wrapped up in beliefs, language, trends and behaviors that are shaped and shared in groups. That’s why it is not surprising that the isolation of illness is one of the biggest hardships for hospitalized and chronically ill children. When ill and challenged children reach out and take actions to help others, it gives them an experience that is incalculably positive because it instills a sense of hope. They can immediately see or imagine how this kindness transforms an ill child. Then they feel a sense of possibility and hope, leaving their sadness and isolation behind. The child learns and borrows from this experience allowing them to feel more hopeful and positive in the face of the most difficult circumstances.
When children are ill, adults tend to focus primarily on the treatment of the child’s illness. It is natural that when a child is ill, his or her parents will organize around attending to the child’s needs, treatments, and the alleviation of symptoms and discomfort. Normal routines (enjoying fun activities together, doing homework, eating dinner together, watching TV and relaxing) go by the wayside and the child’s identity can be subsumed by the illness. Another positive consequence when an ill child does kind acts for other ill children is that it gives parents, doctors, nurses and other caregivers the opportunity to acknowledge the child’s true personality as evidenced through creativity, kindness, and compassion. This in turn makes the child feel more positively about themselves and their actions.
Hope matters. The author of Making Hope Happen: Create the Future You Want for Yourself and Others shares important tools.
Just because you may be grappling with serious illness in your family, you still can have HOPE. How do some people deal with and bounce back from setbacks? Why do they lead happier and healthier lives? It’s because they have hope. So, what exactly is hope and how can you develop it, too? Using discoveries from the largest study of hopeful people ever conducted, world-renowned expert on the psychology of hope, Shane J. Lopez, Ph.D., shares strategies for building a high-hope mindset. He tells uplifting stories of real people who are Making Hope Happen in their lives. The message is clear: Hope matters. Hope is a choice. Hope can be learned. Hope is contagious.
It is always difficult to talk about death. We feel even more uncomfortable and nervous talking with children about death since we want to protect their innocence and shield them from sadness. Despite feeling apprehensive when talking to children about this subject, we need to support children through difficult times in order to facilitate healing and growth.
- Let your children be your guide. If you don’t know what they know or understand about the death, ask open ended questions to see what they know and what questions they may have. Let your child’s questions and responses guide you as to how much information to provide. Give children ample opportunity over time to ask questions.
- Let your children know you are there for them and ready to listen
- Never try to “fix it” or justify the death.
- Be honest with your children. Give them clear and honest answers to their questions. Children want, need and deserve the truth and need to know they can trust you to tell them the truth. You may worry that you won’t know what to say or have all the answers. It is okay to say, “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand that either.”
- Listen to your children when they are not talking. Know that your children are listening to you when you are talking. Children will not always talk about their feelings directly, but you can learn a lot by paying attention to their play, what they are saying while playing, what they are drawing or writing. Children see, hear, feel and absorb what goes on around them. You may think your children are not listening, but they hear you when you are in conversation with others, or on the phone. Children have built in radar.
- Acknowledge your children’s feelings. Let children know that any feelings they may be having are okay and normal. Help your child label their feelings (such as “sad”, “angry”, “frustrated” or “overwhelmed”).
- Assure your child. Be sure to clarify any misconceptions or misinformation. Remind your child that people care about them and will help keep them safe.
- Model for your children. Show children how you appropriately express your emotions and take care of yourself during the grief process. It is okay to let your child see how you feel, but do not use your child as your support system. Rely on other adults or professionals for your emotional support.
- Look for changes in your child’s behavior. Changes may be a sign that they are feeling upset or unsettled. Be aware of changes in eating, sleeping, playing or the ability to concentrate. If your child’s usual behavior continues to be disrupted, contact a professional for support.
- There is comfort in keeping to normal routines and schedules. Stick to normal routines as much as possible. Continue with regular schedules of sleeping, eating, school, extracurricular activities and play time with friends. These routines give your child a sense of security.
- Not all children will understand death the same way
Young children – do not understand that death is permanent. Young children may ask the same questions again and again. This repetition helps them process and understand what has happened. Keep explanations short and simple and reassure them that they are cared for and safe. Young children will absorb and mimic your stress and feelings.
School-Age Children – are better able to understand what has happened and that death is permanent. They may have unrealistic reactions to death, may blame themselves for what has happened or worry that others will die. Provide honest facts and information about the death. Help them express themselves through art or writing and help them label their feelings such as “sad”, “stress”, “overwhelmed”.
Adolescents – may have the same understanding of death as adults have though perhaps not the experience with death and grief. Give adolescents time and space to work out their feelings. Allow them their privacy, but don’t let them withdraw too much. Involve them in decisions and conversations about the death. Let them know you are available if they need to talk. Help them figure out what they can do that is meaningful to them. They may want to channel them into a community project or some act of charity so they feel like they are taking a positive action. It is be helpful to invite children of all ages to write or draw their positive feelings and memories about the person who has died. Open-ended questions such as, “What are some of your favorite memories with this person?” or “What is the thing you are most grateful to have shared with this person?” are ways in which children can express themselves and build memories about the person who died.
Lisa Buksbaum is the CEO & Founder of Soaringwords, a non-profit charity devoted to helping millions of ill children and their families to heal. She started the organization after three experiences with death and illness in her family. To date it has helped 250,000 children and families to “Never give up!” Visit soaringwords.org
Rachel Gorman is the Director of Hospital Outreach and Wellness Education at Soaringwords. She is a certified Child Life Specialist with over 20 years experience working with children and families at leading hospitals. Rachel has taught at Bank Street Graduate School of Education.
- Never say “I know just how you feel.” A well-intentioned comment like this is actually hurtful because it suggests that the parent’s feelings are somehow generic rather than totally unique based on their life experience, their child’s unique character and circumstances, and the relationship they shared. The old language may not work during a parent’s time of grief, instead of saying, “hi, how are you?” instead say something like, “I am thinking about you today.”
- Never try to “fix it” or justify it. You cannot change the reality that their child has died. The most common well-meaning phrases – “It’s God’s will” or “She’s with God now” can also be jarring when a parent has to mourn the death of their child. Listen to them. Let them express their feelings. Validate their feelings and grief so that they can experience it, process it, and begin to heal.
- Never pretend that the child did not exist. Not mentioning the child’s name can actually be hurtful for a grieving parent. It can be reassuring for parents to know that other people hold special memories or recollections about a child who has died. It can also be healing for a parent to talk about a child who has died and share something about the child’s essence or an experience from the child’s life, as it validates the child’s existence. You can acknowledge the child by name. Share your impressions when appropriate and positive.
- Never try to second-guess how the parent will experience holidays or life cycle events and celebrations and the fact that the child is not alive to share these experiences. Take your cues from the parent and let them set the tone. Holidays and special occasions bring up waves of feelings: happier times and perhaps trying times if the child was ill. Encouraging parents to express these feelings well in advance, during, or after the events can actually help them more fully participate, even while they are grieving.
- Never diminish the joy of a grieving parent. “There’s a time to mourn and a time to laugh…” When parents re-engage in life and pleasurable experiences, let them have these moments of joy. Whether going to a movie, taking an outing with other children or friends, reading a book, or engaging in a project that they really enjoy, try to acknowledge them in the context of their joy, without reminding them of their loss, or making them feel guilty.
- Never wait for the “perfect time” to express your support. Never wait to find the “exact words.” Keep it simple. Speak from your heart. Say something like, “I am so sorry for your loss” or let the person know you are thinking of them.
- Never try to “deny the death” with excessive talking, activities, and other distractions. Often the most comforting thing you can do is listen non-judgmentally.
- Never impose your beliefs, values or practices on the parents. The death of a child can provide an opening for simple rituals, prayer and even gratitude. People have to come to these things in their own time, in their own way. You can pray for them in your own way, just don’t add to their pain by suggesting that they are doing something wrong. Death can also turn people away from God and spirituality.
- Never be afraid to be a compassionate human being. Share a hug, perhaps you can let the parent see you cry at the loss, or share a simple thought or emotion you are having about the loss. These actions let the parent know that they are not alone. However, don’t put your grief on their shoulders, it’s not appropriate for them to carry your grief and theirs at this time.
- Never try to protect yourself from death. Of course it is easier to ignore the pain of grieving parents by crossing the street, averting your eyes when you see them, or not calling them, or not offering to help out with errands or taking a sibling for a few hours to give them time for themselves. However, you will appreciate all of life’s joys so much more if you open your heart and embrace parents who are mourning the death of a child. And, in doing something life-affirming and kind, you will be minimizing their pain andcontributing to the blessings surrounding death.
Lisa Buksbaum is the CEO & Founder of Soaringwords, a non-profit charity devoted to helping millions of ill children and their families to heal. She started the organization after three experiences with death and illness in her family. To date it has helped 250,000 children and families to “Never give up!” Watch Lisa on ABC News with Ann Pleshette Murphy talk about Coping With the Loss of a Child.
Gratitude opens your heart and inspires you to give back to others. Gratitude can be about the appreciation of a special person in your life.
Today you are going to make a Gratitude Ladder for someone you know to show them what you appreciate most about them. Think about someone you admire, someone who is kind. Think of someone who does nice things for other people. Perhaps this person is your teacher, a parent, a special friend or a nurse or your doctor. What makes this person unique? What are the character strengths that you have seen in this person? What are special characteristics that come to your mind when you think about this person?
Here’s How to Get Started:
Close your eyes and think about someone special. Write this person’s name on the GRATITUDE BORDER from top to bottom.
Look at the Soaringwords A-to-Z list of adjectives at the bottom of this page to pick a word that goes with each letter of the person’s name.
Write a message of thanks to this special person.
Give your message to that someone special in your life.
Be on the look-out for special people to thank each day. Notice what others do or say that make you feel good. Share your gratitude with others. “Pay it Forward” – do something kind for someone else.
A: Awesome, Amazing, Accepting, Astonishing
B: Beautiful, Brave, Breathtaking, Bold, Bright
C: Clever, Caring, Creative, Cool, Considerate, Curious
D: Dedicated, Determined, Daring, Decisive, Down-to-earth
E: Energetic, Exceptional, Elegant, Exquisite
F: Friendly, Fair, Forgiving, Funny, Fascinating
G: Great, Gentle, Gorgeous, Gracious, Giving, Grateful
H: Happy, Honest, Hip, Harmonious, Hopeful, Humorous
I: Interesting, Intelligent, Impressive, Inventive, Imaginative
J: Jolly, Just, Joyous
K: Kind, Knowledgeable, Kindhearted
L: Likeable, Lovely, Loving, Lively, Loves learning, Leader
M: Magical, Mature, Marvelous, Merry
O: Open-minded, Outstanding, Original
P: Pleasant, Positive, Productive, Playful
R: Resilient, Respectful, Realistic, Reasonable
S: Silly, Spiritual, Social, Serious, Splendid
T: Talented, Team-player, Trustworthy, Tough, Tenacious
U: Unbelievable, Unique, Understanding
V: Versatile, Vivacious, Visionary
W: Wonderful, Witty, Wildly Creative, Well Mannered
X: (e)Xtroverted, e(X)traordinary