by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJanuary 6, 2022 anxiety in children, Child Anxiety, child counseling, child psychologist, child therapy, children mental health, death, health anxiety, pandemic, parenting, Parenting and Families0 comments
In the last two years there has been a noticeable increase of school age children spending a lot of their time discussing and playing out themes of death. This can be very concerning to parents as they want to shield their children from anything that is scary and death is a heavy concept, even for adults.
With the pandemic, death has been a constant topic on the news, media, and at the dinner table. Children are more observant than adults often realize so even when they seem absorbed in their video games or pretend play, they are internalizing what is being said. The way that children explore and understand the world is different from adults. Children will process unsafe and/or new topics by playing them out with their toys. This allows them to take an unsafe topic into a safe space that they control and understand.
According to the Yale Child Study Center, “Between the ages of 5 and 7 years, children gradually begin to develop an understanding that death is permanent and irreversible and that the person who died will not return” (Child Bereavement UK, 2020, p. 2). This means that there is an entire group of children who are moving into this developmental stage of understanding death for the first time during a global pandemic. Looking at the behaviors from this lens gives an understanding to the increase in anxiety, play themes, and/or conversations around this topic for school age children.
Another important part of this developmental stage is that the child’s imagination and ‘magical thinking’ also needs to be considered and addressed when looking for ways to help children conceptualize death and decreasing the anxiety around this topic. The Yale Child Study Center goes on to say:
Children’s imagination and ‘magical thinking at this age can mean that some children may believe that their thoughts or actions caused the death, and they can feel guilt. Not being given sufficient information in age-appropriate language can lead them to ‘make- up’ and fill in the gaps of this knowledge. Children increasingly become aware that death is an inevitable part of life that happens to all living things. As a result, they become anxious about their own, and other’s, health, and safety.” (p. 2).
To summarize, children are taking on the weight of the world with this pandemic on their tiny shoulders. So it is the job of the adult to take this burden off of them. This is not to say that the adult needs to take the responsibility of a global pandemic either, because that is also an impossible task, but instead to free up the child to engage in their job of being a kid. As much as parents wish they could change the world for their child, what is in their control is making sure the child feels safe.
For example, if a young child was worried that if an acorn fell her entire family would die this would in line with magical thinking due to lack of information. Parents are then able to use this as an opportunity to use age-appropriate language to explain, without invalidating, the child’s fears. The parent is then able to say, “I can see this is something that you are very afraid of. Let’s take a deep breath together to help calm ourselves and talk about it. It’s Mommy’s/Daddy’s/Safe Grownup’s job to keep you safe. It’s your job to be a kid and play. It’s okay to be scared and sometimes scary things happen in the world, but I am here to help you with your big emotions, as well as help keep you safe.”
The world is a scary place, so it is important to create a safe space within the family unit for the child to express how they are feeling, as well as have their needs met through validation and allowing them to hear that they are safe to let the parent be in control.
Another way of reassuring children of the parent’s role of protector and sole adult is through play. Similar language can be used when the child is playing out these fears of the pandemic and death. Children will show you exactly what they are thinking and worrying about through play, even when they do not have the words to have a conversation around this. The parent can then utilize whatever scene the child is playing out to have characters deliver these important messages of safety.
It can be difficult for parents to take on this task, especially if they have their own fears of death and the pandemic. There are many resources available for guidance, such as the Association for Play Therapy’s Parent’s Corner. If you would like to work with a professional there are always many options for the family, such as parent consultation, individual play therapy, and dyadic play therapy with a play therapist. The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh has licensed professionals who are here to help!
Child Bereavement UK. (2020). Children’s understanding of death at different ages. Yale Child Study Center. Retrieved from www.medicine.yale.edu/childstudyLearn More
by Stephanie McCrackenMay 4, 2015 counseling, mindfulness, personal growth, psychology, psychotherapy, wisdom0 comments
Is our fantasy of tomorrow preventing life today? There is a Zen saying which states that we should all aspire to be like a baby, experiencing each thing anew, recovering its wonder, in this we find peace, we find joy, we find the departure of negative feeling states attached to memory’s. There are many times when the perception of life’s lengthy expanse may prevent us from engaging fully in today, we imagine that we always have another tomorrow to complete our goals, to say hello, to say good bye, or to utter I’m sorry. As an exercise in consciousness and imagination, consider for a moment that you have learned it will be your last day on earth. I imagine that most of us would want to know this information as it would likely shape how we interact on our final day. If we could harness our strength and be compelled to ride the waves of anxiety something unique happens when we let go of the illusion of tomorrow, we submerge ourselves with attention in the things that matter most, we begin to embody our true or essential selves.
What is meant by the term true self? Most people when asked what they would do on their final day, make some mention of spending time with the people who they love. We want to tell them that we love them, perhaps to lay behind us disagreements and grievances. Yet too we often want to contribute something to humanity or to our family. Our essential self, offers peace and love as its greatest legacy yet often in life we are caught up in our feelings of injustice, notion of what is right or wrong, rigid boundaries with others so then it becomes easy to hold grudges, not make time for those we care about as we check our email, lift our weights, as we save and toil for our eternally uncertain futures.
There is another Zen saying which states that if we are feeling anxiety it is because we are in the future, if we are feeling depression it is because we are in the past, if we are feeling calm it is because we are in the present. Our human minds easily drift among these layers of consciousness, with the gift of memory and planning we have evolved so well to map out our future, considering things like consequences and possibilities. It is the same too with consideration of the past, it is an evolutionary advantage to remember people and situations which cause us fear and pain. It is healthy and expected to refrain from dangers and risks and move towards help and comfort. Without concerns for the future, as we continue our exercise in imagining that it is our last day on earth, we are poised on the precipice of the great unknown, we may be better able to remain grounded “in the now”. Author Randy Pausch, esteemed writer of “The Last Lecture”, Randy wrote a memoir on living while dying, in one of his chapters he references how brilliant each moment became when we know that our time is very limited. We open ourselves to the grandeur and wonder when we imagine that the things we encounter will never be encountered again, yet the truth is for each of us, full of health and contentment, time is limited, it is ticking with finality, how vivid is today, how connected to the things and people do you feel that you are right now? How do you feel about the life that you will be living today? Have you made amends with your regrets? Are you connected to passion, serenity, to wonder? We cannot be sure about tomorrow but how alive can we become today?
In peace and joy,
Stephanie McCracken MSCP
Nicole Monteleone MA, LPC, NCC
Reviving Minds Therapy
Counseling and Psychotherapy ‘Couples Therapy
1010 Western Avenue Pittsburgh Pa 15233 Suite 100