Hold your family together in times of trouble

Every family experiences painful losses. Beloved pets and family members die. So do hopes and marriages. Tragedies and accidents happen, unfortunately.

Every family experiences painful losses. Beloved pets and family members die. So do hopes and marriages. Tragedies and accidents happen, unfortunately.

As parents, we may not be able to protect our children from crisis or loss, but we can react in a way that prevents it from tearing the family apart. What matters isn’t whether you have a crisis, but how you handle it.

First, a bit of definition: A crisis can shake up a single family or an entire community or nation. Our children are vicariously affected by the disaster news out of Myanmar and China, but I want to talk here about the kind of family crises we commonly see at Youth Eastside Services.

A crisis to my family may not be a crisis to yours. A personal crisis is just that – personal. But generally, there is a sense of loss or danger and a choice or choices to be made.

Many things can lead to crisis, including the loss of a job, separation and divorce, drug and alcohol abuse, crime and legal troubles, and sickness and injury, to name a few. Even good things, like birth and marriage, can bring major stress on a family.

Such upheavals can bring a complex knot of emotions, including grief, fear, anger, anxiety and helplessness. At Youth Eastside Services, we tell parents and families working through crises that there is no normal reaction, no right or wrong way to feel.

For example, some children may behave as if nothing is wrong. They may not know what to feel or say, particularly if they have mixed feelings about a loss or a person who has died.

Parents need to let their children know that their emotions – whatever they are – are okay, says Bertie Conrad, our supervisor of school-based counseling at YES. She recommends the following books and games for parents who would like a little help exploring or explaining complicated feelings:

For younger children: Goodbye Mousie (Harris, 2001) and I Miss You: A First Look at Death (Thomas, 2001).

For pre-teens and adolescents: When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death (Brown and Brown, 1996) and What on Earth Do You Do When Someone Dies? (Romain, 1999)

The Good-Bye Game (Childswork/Childsplay) or The Grief Game (Jessica Kinglsey Publishers)

Bertie also advises parents to take the time to reflect on their own reactions and feelings before talking to their children. Tell them enough so that they understand the situation and feel safe and cared for, but not so much that they share the burden of an adult problem.

The flip side of saying too much is saying too little. Don’t blithely tell your child that everything will be OK or go on as if nothing happened. Acknowledge the significance of the problem or loss, while providing reassurance: “This is a difficult time. I understand that you’re feeling sad, but I know we can get through this together.”

During and after the crisis, make yourself available to your children and check in with them from time to time. Don’t assume that they’re “over it” because they don’t show any outward signs of distress. Let them know it’s OK to talk and that you’re there to listen.

Here are some other tips for getting your family through troubled times:

Maintain routines as much as possible to give family members a sense of control.

Consider starting a ritual to honor a loved one who has died.

Have a family meeting to discuss issues that arise, and communicate with your child’s teachers.

Don’t hesitate to call on friends, relatives, your church or a family counselor if you need extra support. Even the strongest parents and families can benefit from outside help sometimes.

‘Parenting Lifeline’ is a monthly column in Reporter newspapers by Patti Skelton-McGougan, executive director of Youth Eastside Services. Since 1968, YES has been a lifeline for kids and families, offering counseling, parenting classes, outreach and prevention programs to help foster strong family relationships and a safe community. For more information, call 425-747-4937 or go to www.youtheastsideservices.org.

In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@bellevuereporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.bellevuereporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in Life

Bellevue Jazz and Blues Festival streaming free for five evenings
Bellevue Jazz and Blues Festival streaming free for five evenings

Over 20 artists will perform in early October

Archived photo of Kelsey Creek Farm Fair/Courtesy of city of Bellevue.
Kelsey Creek Farm Fair canceled

The fair was scheduled for it’s 39th annual event on Oct. 3

Deyonté Weather Collection available to view during Fashion Week. Courtesy photo/The Bellevue Collection
Fashion Week at the Bellevue Collection is available virtually and in-person

Proceeds for its online runway shows go to Bellevue LifeSpring.

Diya Garg, left, distributes Mighty Crayon recycles crayons and coloring books for Seattle students. Courtesy photo/Diya Garg.
Getting crayons to kids runs in the family

Eastside nonprofit Mighty Crayon is relaunched by younger sister of founder, repurposing used restaurant crayons

Pandemic doesn’t stop pageantry, as Bellevue woman sets to compete for Mrs. America title
Pandemic doesn’t stop pageantry, as Bellevue woman sets to compete for Mrs. America title

Linda Hoffner discusses winning Mrs. Washington America during the COVID-19 pandemic and working for gender equity in the workplace

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid. Courtesy photo
2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid | Car review

There’s a reason Honda’s CR-V has been America’s top-selling crossover vehicle over… Continue reading

2020 Ford Ranger SuperCrew Lariat. Courtesy photo
2020 Ford Ranger SuperCrew Lariat | Car review

Ford’s venerable compact Ranger pickup went away for a while. But it… Continue reading

Courtesy photo
Sign up for 2020 ‘Run to Rwanda’ Fun Run slated for September

Clyde Hill resident Sophie Sharp, an 11th grade student at The Overlake… Continue reading

Washington State Fair cancelled
Washington State Fair cancelled

COVID-19 outbreak claims another event

TLG Motion Pictures CEO Erik Bernard and TLG founder Courtney LeMarco on a set. Photo courtesy TLG Motion Pictures.
Local production company seeking film, TV pitches from young minority creatives

The Big Pitch competition, put on by TLG Motion Pictures (“Hoarders”), started about six months ago.

Local musicians hold virtual benefit concert for mental health
Local musicians hold virtual benefit concert for mental health

The stream-a-thon supports NAMI Eastside and nonprofit Hold Your Crown