Loss and the holidays

Annual holidays can be a very difficult time for people who have experienced the death of a loved one. Holidays force us to realize how much our lives have been changed by loss. This can be particularly difficult for children because the magic of the holidays is usually more exciting for children than for adults. While adults can play an important role in helping children grieve, the more that children are actively involved in their own grief process, the greater the opportunity for healing. If your child or a child you know are mourning a loss of a loved one this year, here are some important things to keep in mind:

  1. After a death, the best way to find out what the kids would find most comforting and meaningful for each holiday is to ask them. This sounds simple, but you would be surprised at how often it is overlooked. Children often take their lead from adults. How you are handling things can determine in part, how they will handle things. However, their grief reactions can often be expressed as anger in children. They may say things or act in ways that can be hurtful. This is extremely difficult to handle if they were directed toward you, especially when your emotions can be stretched to the limits by your own grief. Young children may not be able to verbalize their feelings and needs. Having children draw how they feel can help express those things that are hard for them to express verbally. Be specific with good memories. With teenagers, all those dynamics that make it difficult for adults to communicate with them under normal circumstances are intensified while grieving so instead of drawing as with younger children, teens may chose to write down what they are feeling and what they need.
  1. Have fun. Children need to take breaks in their grieving. In other words they will not grieve continuously, every day, all day long. Let them laugh and kid around. It is okay to laugh. Laughter releases good endorphins in the brain.
  1. Special mementos. Let them have a photo or small memento to carry with them. It helps them feel close. During the holidays, allow the children to keep pictures of their loved one from past holidays. Visit about how the holidays will be different but also how some traditions will be the same. Allow the children to have a loved one’s shirt or other article of clothing to sleep in. You can even spray the item with perfume or aftershave that smells like their loved one.
  1. Keep some routine but accept changes. Remember your children’s world may be in chaos; they need structure (e.g., wake-up times, bed, meal, school, homework and television times). Christmas can be especially hard as they watch other families celebrate and as everyone’s schedules tend to be interrupted over the holidays. While routines are important some changes will have to be made. Allow children to help make decisions about holiday plans. Children will feel like they have more control over the situation when they help make decisions, even small ones.
  1. Create a new tradition or ritual that accommodates your situation. Some people find comfort in the old traditions. Others find them unbearably painful. Discuss with your family the activities you want to include or exclude this year. Some examples of new rituals and traditions that you can include the children in include:
  • Announce beforehand that someone different will carve the turkey.
  • Create a memory box. You could fill it with photos of your loved one or written memory notes from family members and friends. Young children could include their drawings in the memory box.
  • Make a decorative quilt using favorite colors, symbols or images that remind you of the person who died.
  • Light a candle in honor of your absent loved one.
  • Put a bouquet of flowers on your holiday table in memory of your loved one.
  • Visit the cemetery and decorate the memorial site with holiday decorations.
  • Have a moment of silence during a holiday toast to honor your loved one.
  • Place a commemorative ornament on the tree.
  • Write a poem about your loved one and read it during a holiday ritual.
  • Play your loved one’s favorite music or favorite game.
  • Plan a meal with your loved ones’ favorite foods.

goldenErin Golden, PsyD is a psychologist at OCH Christian County Clinic in Nixa. She offers evaluation and counseling for adult and pediatric patients. Dr. Golden worked as a psychologist in Arkansas since 2011. She received her education from the University of Michigan and the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology. Dr. Golden is currently a member of the Missouri Association of Play Therapists and the American Psychological Association.

Advertisements

How to recognize eating disorders in teenagers

Eating disorders are a common chronic condition among adolescent girls. OCH psychologist Erin Golden, PsyD takes a closer look at two: anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. In the the following post Dr. Golden breaks down the similarities and differences between each eating disorder, while also sharing recognizable signs and symptoms: 

Anorexia nervosa is a disorder characterized by:

  • An unrealistic fear of weight gain;
  • Self-starvation, or refusal to maintain body weight at or above normal weight;
  • A distortion of body image
  • And absence of at least three consecutive menstrual cycles (in women of appropriate age and health).

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder where the main feature is binge eating followed by unhealthy behaviors to compensate for such binge eating in order to prevent weight gain (e.g., purging). This includes:

  • Binge eating
  • Eating in a discrete period of time an amount of food that is larger than most people would eat during a similar period of time and under similar circumstances
  • A sense of lack of control over eating during these periods
  • Compensatory behavior in order to prevent weight gain such as: self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics, enemas or other medications, fasting or excessive exercise;
  • This eating pattern occurs at least twice a week for three months (or longer)
  • A distorted body image.

Onset of anorexia nervosa starts mostly between 14 and 18 years, while for bulimia onset is around the time of transition from adolescence to early adulthood in adolescent and adult females, especially in female athletes, ballet students, fashion models and culinary students.  Anorexia nervosa is the third most common chronic condition among adolescent girls in the USA, after obesity and asthma. Although the occurrence of eating disorders is infrequent the outcomes of eating disorders are serious. Approximately 25–33% of patients with anorexia or bulimia nervosa develop a chronic disorder.

Eating disorders often co-occur with substance abuse disorders, depression, and anxiety disorders. Because anorexic females typically deny that any problem exits, treating the disorder is difficult. Hospitalization is often necessary to prevent life-threatening malnutrition.  Family therapy, aimed at changing parent-child interaction and expectations is the most successful treatment; still, only about 50% of anorexics fully recover. Bulimia is usually easier to treat than anorexia, using therapy focused on support groups, nutrition education, and revising eating habits and thoughts about food.

erin golden psychologistDr. Golden sees patients at OCH Christian County Clinic in Nixa. Her focus includes the evaluation/testing; individual and family therapy; adult and pediatric patients with depression, anxiety, adjustment disorders, eating disorders, and behavioral issues. Dr. Golden worked as a psychologist in Arkansas since 2011. She received her education from the University of Michigan and the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology. Dr. Golden is currently a member of the Missouri Association of Play Therapists and the American Psychological Association. Dr. Erin Golden can accept Medicaid, Medicare and UHC Military insurances. To contact her, call the Nixa clinic (417) 724-3100 or fax (417) 725-7380.