When the school year disappears – children dealing with loss

The world has changed utterly – or at least that is how it feels. Our children are experiencing the same sense of upheaval. For children who were due to move on from nursery, primary or secondary school this year the sense of loss may be even greater. Normally there would have been some process to help our children move on and make the transition. This may have been ‘graduation’ from nursery, special trips, the Leavers’ Mass, prom. Our children may be experiencing a sense of ‘ambiguous loss’. This is where we feel we have no control over the loss and we can’t resolve it easily. Certainly at the moment there is an ongoing sense of “I don’t know” in response to questions about when life will feel any way normal again, when schools will re-open, how that will be done. So in the midst of all this ambiguity or unknowing, how can we help our children to deal with their feelings of loss? Here are some ideas from Geoffrey Greif. You can read the whole article on the Psychology Today website at https://www.psychologytoday.com/ie/blog/buddy-system/202005/the-ambiguous-loss-the-end-the-school-year

1. Discuss the ambiguity. In Pauline Boss’s writing, she emphasizes that coping with ambiguous loss often requires us to recognize that it is not possible to be in control of the situation or to resolve the sense of uncertainty. Instead, we can learn new ways to live with both the virtual presence of people (e.g., teachers, friends, extended family) and their physical absence. We can agree that we are missing milestones while, at the same time, accepting new opportunities.

For children, sitting with this ambiguity and uncertainty is often a challenge (as it is for many adults). But families can talk about it with their children and acknowledge a range of emotions that may ensue, including a sense of loss, even as we build relationships and traditions in new ways. More celebrations will come our way.

2. Explore opportunities for gratitude. Researchers have repeatedly found that expressing gratitude is associated with improved mental health, well-being, and stronger relationships. Parents can model for children opportunities to identify things they are grateful for, even in the context of unpredictable change and loss. A small moment, like connecting with a school friend on FaceTime, can be something for which to be thankful. Showing gratitude towards others can build on this.

4. Approach yourself and your children with love. There is no blueprint for how to manage this time. A nonjudgmental lens of love and support may be the best way to enhance your connections and build feelings of value and worth.

As painful and as ambiguous as these losses are, we are going through them together. And with this shared experience, we can look to ourselves and to others for ways to build communities inside and outside of our homes.

3. Engage your child in decision making. While there are many issues that children and teens don’t have control over right now, there are also things that they can control — such as the order in which they do their schoolwork, which friends they talk to in the evening, and how they want to spend free time. Work with your child to identify decisions that they can make, so in moments when they feel vulnerable, they can focus on what they can do.

 

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Infant Mental Health Awareness Week runs from June 13th-19th.           

This week provides an opportunity to focus attention on the wellbeing, social and emotional development of our babies and young children. It highlights the importance of early relationships and a relationship based approach to interventions with infants and families. As our understanding of IMH and its evidence base develops, so also does our knowledge of how to apply this knowledge and an ‘IMH lens’ to interactions with infants, parents and caregivers in health and social services. 

What is infant mental health?

Infant Mental health (IMH) refers to the healthy social and emotional development of Infants starting at conception up to three years of age.

The first 1000 days of life are recognised as a critical period of opportunity to support infant mental health. Decades of research have shown that it is the quality of the early caregiver relationship that is a significant determinant of the infant’s healthy social and emotional development and in turn physical health, right up to adulthood.

 

The National Healthy Childhood Programme has embedded IMH as the foundation of the development of its resources and in the approach of the delivery of the universal child health service. This embedding of key messages can be seen in the My Child suite of books (www.mychild.ie/books) and also on www.MyChild.ie  where key messages around bonding and relationship building have been embedded for the parent/caregiver.

 

In clinical practice the topic of IMH has been included for the first time in the National Standardised Child Health Record. To build on this, the National Healthy Childhood Programme have just completed a suite of three eLearning units which are now available on HSEland for healthcare practitioners / caregivers who are working with children and families.  

 

Throughout the week you will see videos and key IMH messaging being promoted on the HSE MyChild social media pages ( Facebook / Instagram ). Keep an eye out in the National Newspapers for articles from our experts also. (IrishTimes article)  

 

In addition The National Healthy Childhood Programme have developed a series of ten practical videos with HSE expert advice which are now available on YouTube and on the relevant pages on the www.mychild.ie website.

These videos (2-3 minutes each) are aimed at parents/guardians of children (0 – 3 years).

These new video resources are available here while lots more expert advice for every step of pregnancy, baby and toddler health can also be found at www.mychild.ie

There are a suite of posters available focusing on the promotion of IMH messaging to order from healthy.childhood@hse.ie

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