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LOSS Program Office
721 N. LaSalle Street
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Main Line: (312) 655-7283
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Featured this Month:

Loss and Learning
Wednesday, July 12, 2017 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
After a sudden loss like suicide, families are reeling. Parents may feel like they have lost energy and find that hopeless feelings, apathy or frustration are affecting their interactions with children and teens. Children, in response, may be furtive and watchful of your tears and despair at home, while looking for normalcy in school or with friends outside the home. Grief reactions to loss are diverse in relation to personality and developmental stage, so closeness and intimacy are not necessarily direct outcomes of mutual loss experiences. But to suggest that profound loss can offer growth experiences to families who are struggling to contain shock and despair, to just make it day to day, can sound patronizing. Still, the message is meant to offer hope. As you begin your survival process you will find ways to truly take care of yourself and each other by understanding each other’s emotional experiences. Empathy allows you to relate to what another is feeling. It is a skill that is learned, especially in situations where emotions are driving individuals’ reactive behaviors. And in this loss, the accompanying emotions can bring family members closer, or pull them farther apart. Empathy is subtle and powerful in its ability to reach and connect. There is a great deal to be said for focusing in on the family’s capacity for interactive empathy as a primary means to survive this life changing loss together.

Because all intentional growth is a practice, building empathy through loss will be a gradual and healing process of awareness, modeling and teaching. The more often parents and children operate with empathy the more empowered they will feel. Empathy creates emotional safety at home. When children observe a parent who is present to their emotional experience, they will see that parent as strengthened and responsive in that moment.

Parents can teach and model empathy for their children at a young age, but it can begin again at any time when you place value and recognition on emotional experience in general, that is, experiences that connect you, children and teens with the world. With younger children you might notice a reaction, then ask, “Are you feeling scared of the dog? Were you lonely out there by yourself in the sandbox? Was it hard for you when you saw other kids with their dads?” Healing through loss extends way beyond grief reactions. During grief, feeling awareness about everything may feel flattened or more intense. All feelings can be a subject for empathic sharing, even the passive, “I don’t know.”

With regular exchanges, you will normalize conversations about what others might be feeling and how children can show empathy: “Do you think that little boy wants to be invited to play?”

Read stories about feelings of all kinds, but especially those of loss and coping.

Be a role model. Use “I” messages: “’I’m sad tonight. When bedtime comes, I miss Daddy even more.”

Practice validating your child’s difficult emotions: “You were so upset when it was time to turn off the TV. The TV can distract us from sad feelings, so I understand why you would want to watch TV for longer when we are all feeling so sad.”

By age five, you can address empathy with more inquiry: “How would you feel if you were that child in that situation?”

Starting around age eight, a capacity for empathy figures in to more complex and moral issues. We all need to learn when other people feeling embarrassed or sensitive or shy or feeling different. We can offer inclusion, or a smile, or just acceptance. We can take positions against bullying behavior, tell an adult when another person or animal is being mistreated. We advance our empathy skills when we realize that someone’s feelings may be different from our own. When we allow this difference, we are not only affirming our own experience and values, but respecting those of the other person.

Most of these are routine examples of normal empathy , but immediately following a major loss experience, everyone may feel emotionally shut down to the life moving around the family. It is healing to bridge understandable reactions of confusion, anger or withdrawal with an empathic response. Be prepared to hear that you have read an emotion in error. Look for feedback without pushing. Again, empathy is a practice with small, intentional steps. As survivors you will continue to feed the pets, move yourselves out of the house and interact with other people, eat together and check in with each other. Each time empathy is offered you step beyond your own pain to validate someone you care for.



Archives:

Loss and Learning
Wednesday, July 12, 2017 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
After a sudden loss like suicide, families are reeling. Parents may feel like they have lost energy and find that hopeless feelings, apathy or frustration are affecting their interactions with children and teens. Children, in response, may be furtive and watchful of your tears and despair at home, while looking for normalcy in school or with friends outside the home. Grief reactions to loss are diverse in relation to personality and developmental stage, so closeness and intimacy are not necessarily direct outcomes of mutual loss experiences. But to suggest that profound loss can offer growth experiences to families who are struggling to contain shock and despair, to just make it day to day, can sound patronizing. Still, the message is meant to offer hope. As you begin your survival process you will find ways to truly take care of yourself and each other by understanding each other’s emotional experiences. Empathy allows you to relate to what another is feeling. It is a skill that is learned, especially in situations where emotions are driving individuals’ reactive behaviors. And in this loss, the accompanying emotions can bring family members closer, or pull them farther apart. Empathy is subtle and powerful in its ability to reach and connect. There is a great deal to be said for focusing in on the family’s capacity for interactive empathy as a primary means to survive this life changing loss together.

Because all intentional growth is a practice, building empathy through loss will be a gradual and healing process of awareness, modeling and teaching. The more often parents and children operate with empathy the more empowered they will feel. Empathy creates emotional safety at home. When children observe a parent who is present to their emotional experience, they will see that parent as strengthened and responsive in that moment.

Parents can teach and model empathy for their children at a young age, but it can begin again at any time when you place value and recognition on emotional experience in general, that is, experiences that connect you, children and teens with the world. With younger children you might notice a reaction, then ask, “Are you feeling scared of the dog? Were you lonely out there by yourself in the sandbox? Was it hard for you when you saw other kids with their dads?” Healing through loss extends way beyond grief reactions. During grief, feeling awareness about everything may feel flattened or more intense. All feelings can be a subject for empathic sharing, even the passive, “I don’t know.”

With regular exchanges, you will normalize conversations about what others might be feeling and how children can show empathy: “Do you think that little boy wants to be invited to play?”

Read stories about feelings of all kinds, but especially those of loss and coping.

Be a role model. Use “I” messages: “’I’m sad tonight. When bedtime comes, I miss Daddy even more.”

Practice validating your child’s difficult emotions: “You were so upset when it was time to turn off the TV. The TV can distract us from sad feelings, so I understand why you would want to watch TV for longer when we are all feeling so sad.”

By age five, you can address empathy with more inquiry: “How would you feel if you were that child in that situation?”

Starting around age eight, a capacity for empathy figures in to more complex and moral issues. We all need to learn when other people feeling embarrassed or sensitive or shy or feeling different. We can offer inclusion, or a smile, or just acceptance. We can take positions against bullying behavior, tell an adult when another person or animal is being mistreated. We advance our empathy skills when we realize that someone’s feelings may be different from our own. When we allow this difference, we are not only affirming our own experience and values, but respecting those of the other person.

Most of these are routine examples of normal empathy , but immediately following a major loss experience, everyone may feel emotionally shut down to the life moving around the family. It is healing to bridge understandable reactions of confusion, anger or withdrawal with an empathic response. Be prepared to hear that you have read an emotion in error. Look for feedback without pushing. Again, empathy is a practice with small, intentional steps. As survivors you will continue to feed the pets, move yourselves out of the house and interact with other people, eat together and check in with each other. Each time empathy is offered you step beyond your own pain to validate someone you care for.