Untangling Your Child's Grief

Untangling Your Child's Grief

Episode Description

Children experience grief over many things—the loss of a loved one, moving away from their friends, the death of a pet. In this episode of "Mind Your Mind," Lucas Mitzel, a therapist at Dakota Family Services, talks about the stages of grief, and how to walk your child through the grieving process. He will also talk about ways to determine if your child needs to see a professional who can help them untangle the many emotions of grief.

What to Expect

  • The five stages of grief.
  • Tips for grieving in a healthy way.
  • Signs that you or your child may need professional help.
  • Recognize the difference between grief and depression.


Things to Think About

  • Am I grieving or pushing my grief aside?
  • Is my child exhibiting irregular behavior?
  • Is this grief or has it morphed into depression?
  • Do I need to seek professional help for me or my child?

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Transcript
Untangling Your Child's Grief

Featuring Lucas Mitzel, LCSW, Therapist, Dakota Family Services

Host Tim Unsinn:
Welcome to Mind Your Mind, a podcast presented by Dakota Family Services an outpatient behavioral health clinic located in Minot, Bismarck, and Fargo North Dakota. In this podcast, I will talk with our experts about understanding and nurturing our mental health and wellness. I'm your host, Tim Unsinn. Join me each episode as we explore the intricacies of our minds, decrease the stigma of mental illness, learn practical tips for managing our mental health and well-being, and recognize when it's time to ask for help. Join me now to Mind Your Mind. Welcome to this episode of Mind Your Mind. I'll be talking with Lucas Mitzel about grief. Lucas is a therapist on the Fargo campus and provides outpatient therapy for children, adolescents, and young adults. Lucas. Before we get into the topic today, please tell us why you do what you do.

Lucas Mitzel:
So I think, you know, the big, the biggest reason I do what I do and I could talk about this probably for a good couple of hours, but my goal is to help people become the best versions of themselves that they can be and whatever that means for each individual person, each kid, each adult I see. My goal is to make them feel like they are better when they leave my office and that they just, they feel like they can be their best.

Host Tim Unsinn:
Great answer. Easy answer. I knew you'd have a good one for that one. So now let's talk about grief. What are the stages of grief and what do they look like?

Lucas Mitzel:
Five stages of grief. And I'll just go in order. And then I'll kind of explain what each one means. And so the first one would be denial, and then we go into bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. Now each one is very similar, but looks very different at the same time. And so denial would look and I'll give you a real example of something that's happened. And so with denial--with a kid who's maybe moving away he was saying things like, "I'm not moving, this is not happening. There's no way I'm moving away from my friends." And then bargaining saying things like, "Well, I promise I'll be good. I promise I'll go to church every week." Things like this to try and get his, his way and stay. So he doesn't have to move away. Then that led into anger saying, "I can't believe that this is happening."
"I can't believe you're doing this to me. This is not fair." And then depression looked like, "I'm going to miss my friends a lot. This is going to be really, really hard." Finally acceptance for him, looked more like, "Well, now I guess I'm ready. I'm going to make new friends." And grief is weird in that it's not just a singular, there's no straight line through grief. And so you can go like denial, bargaining, anger, bargaining, depression, bargaining, depression, anger, depression, anger, and then acceptance. And so you can go back and forth throughout that process over and over again until you reach acceptance. Acceptance is where all of the healing really starts to begin when you're talking about grief. And there are times too, when denial is really difficult to get out of for kids, and adults, but so much so that they're almost denying that something even happened. And that can be really challenging for some people. But like I said, it, it looks very different for every single person.

Host Tim Unsinn:
So when does, you're talking about grief talking about all of the stages of grief. So when does someone need to seek help regarding grief.

Lucas Mitzel:
I'm going to give kind of a lame answer and then I'm gonna get a little more specific. It depends is, is really the biggest answer. It depends on a lot of different issues and that can be depending on age, depending on what your past experiences are, who the person was, if you're grieving a person. What the loss was. And so grief is associated with a lot of confusing thoughts and, and feelings, and it can be very beneficial to have a professional kind of unravel that. And I've, I've seen really cool pictures of what therapy is, is like, it's a picture of two thought bubbles. And one has a tangled mess of yarn, and then the therapist is taking the yarn and wrapping it back up. Kind of making sense of all the thoughts. And that's kind of what we do in our office is we take your thoughts and we take your feelings and we try and look at them and kind of make sense of those together.

Lucas Mitzel:
For kids specifically, it can be really difficult to know when, when do I need to seek help to assist with my child, because, you know, as parents care about your kids, you're worried that this might be a really difficult time. And there's some key things that you can look out for to make sure that every, that they're going through this appropriately. And a big sign is any sort of behaviors that could come from that. So any acting out. Maybe there's all of a sudden they're having a lack of hygiene, or maybe they're starting to isolate more and maybe they're getting really, really irritable and crabby. Maybe they can't sleep. All of these could be warning signs that maybe this is a little bit bigger than just grief, or maybe they're struggling with this grief process. But a big thing to keep in mind is that it needs to be impacting daily life.

Lucas Mitzel:
So when something happens and you're going through grief, things are going to change and it's going to be really difficult at times, depending on what that is. And so you need to just be careful because, you know, if, if they go a weekend and they just don't want to shower, but they lost maybe their grandpa on Friday, that that might make sense. It's if this is starting to impact maybe everyday life and getting really difficult to manage, then you might want to start looking at coming in. You would also want to look at developmental age too. A five-year-old is probably going to respond to this a lot differently than a 15 year old, depending on what's going on. And so if you have your child is really struggling with like crying and having outbursts and they're five, that would probably make a lot of sense.

Lucas Mitzel:
Now, if they're 15 and they're crying and having a lot of physical outbursts, there's maybe something else going on too. And so you just need to make sure that you're taking that into account for yourself. You know, when do you, when do I seek help for me? A good indicator could be, you know, people who have been in a similar boat who are maybe grieving the same thing, are they moving on? Are they getting better? And maybe you're not. And has it been a couple of months? And it seems like everybody's moved on with their life and, and is kind of quote unquote over it. And you are still stuck back in, you know, August when this occurred. And it's December, that could be a sign that maybe this is changing a bit. And another good tool you can use is if you've gone through things like this in the past, if you've lost someone or something, how did you handle it back then? Is this a lot tougher? Were you able to, was this where you were at before? Because you know yourself and you're gonna be able to tell that something something's different this time. And so those are just some tips to try and figure out if maybe maybe some help would be necessary.

Host Tim Unsinn:
So I'm hearing you talk about grief and in the back of my mind, I'm feeling and thinking depression. So what's the difference between grief and depression?

Lucas Mitzel:
Yeah, that's, that's, that's a really great question because a lot of symptoms of grief really mimic depression. The biggest thing that we look at is what are your thoughts and your thoughts kind of dictate what's kind of going on. Along with a timeline too, like we were talking about. And so for example, grief has a lot of feelings of emptiness and loss. Whereas depression will have the persistent, like depressed mood, or like, you're not able to feel happiness or pleasure anymore. With grief, you might have intense sadness, but that should typically decrease over time and probably will come in waves. Whereas like I said, depression is more constant and you're not typically thinking of the loved one you lost. It's more of a thoughts towards yourself and like feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing. And if there are feelings when you're grieving and you have these negative feelings towards yourself, typically it's within the context of that individual or of that thing.

Lucas Mitzel:
So for example, it could be like, "I didn't spend enough time with my dad and I'm, I feel really guilty about that." That's probably grief and not necessarily depression with grief, your self esteem would be preserved. Whereas with depression, your self esteem will tank and you might have with grief, you could still have thoughts of death. That's a really big thing for depression. However, it's more about like maybe wanting to join the deceased. It's more focused on the lost person that you have, whereas wanting to die when it comes to depression comes from that feeling of worthlessness and like you are a burden on everybody else, and that things would just be better off if you were gone. And so if you find that you're, you're feeling those things and you, and you're hearing yourself in that, that might be a really good sign or indicator that you should probably seek some help and try and get some of that, that stuff worked out. Cause that's when we've crossed into the threshold of like, this is not normal anymore, and this is probably not healthy. Those are some of the, some of the big signs, but thoughts are the biggest piece of that. What are you thinking of? What are you focused on when it comes to your sadness? But they do feel very similar.

Host Tim Unsinn:
It's probably good as well as we are observing people around us that we feel maybe in grief or depression, maybe looking for, you know, maybe some of the easy signs as indicators.

Lucas Mitzel:
Absolutely. And so when you have loved ones that are, are grieving and you, you are noticing, you know, if they're, if they're isolating more, if they're not getting out of bed, if they're not cleaning themselves, if they're giving things away, or if there's a lot of negative self-talk, all of these could be indicators that there's something bigger than grief. It could be very much triggered by whatever they're grieving. I know I focused a lot on grieving the loss of individuals, but like that first example I gave where that child was grieving the loss of friends because of moving and it can happen. I mean, with, with COVID, we saw a whole bunch of people grieving the loss of their jobs and grieving the loss of even just the routine. Kids not being able to go to school.

Lucas Mitzel:
You know, I meet with older individuals who are grieving the loss of a life they thought they would get because of whatever circumstances happened. And you see all of the stages of grief in that. You can experience the stages of grief without losing a person. I think we get, we get kind of stuck in that mindset where it's like, well, I'm really sad, but I didn't like nobody died. We can still go through all of these things. When people come into inpatient treatment, you see kids going through the stages of grief, like the first day, they're in denial, the next couple of days, they're bargaining with their parents. And then all of a sudden they get really mad and maybe even depressed and finally they're accepting and now they're working. And, you know, but even that, in that context, it ranges in timeframes. And so it's, it's just, this is a really good model to be aware of when looking at things,

Host Tim Unsinn:
Lucas Mitzel is with us right now. We're talking about grief. Lucas is a therapist on the Fargo campus of Dakota Family Services, providing outpatient therapy for children, adolescents, and young adults. So we're talking about grief. What is the best way for someone to grieve?

Lucas Mitzel:
So again, I'm going to use kind of a lame response first, and then I'm going to get more detail. It depends. And so it's really based on you and, and how you do things. And I can never sit and say that you are grieving necessarily incorrectly, as long as you are grieving, as long as you are allowing those feelings to come out in a way that is helpful for you. And it makes you feel better and is not destructive, then you are likely grieving appropriately. What most do struggle with is, is allowing those feelings to come out because grieving doesn't feel good. It's a painful experience. I mean, if you look at those stages, denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance, four out of five of them have negative connotations. And so it doesn't feel good to do this.

Lucas Mitzel:
The thing about grief though, like I said, grief is kind of weird if you it's one of the emotions or one of the life cycles that if you don't allow it to happen the way it wants to, in the way that it should, it's going to come out sideways. And so you see this with people who don't allow it go through and, and all, all of a sudden they're feeling really depressed and then anxiety starts coming up and it's starting to kind of mold or take its own form kids. Kids also struggle with this a lot, especially the boys I see. Cause they gotta be tough, you know, and it's, it's really good to encourage our loved ones to allow that to be let out. And so when you're feeling things, allow it, allow yourself to feel it. It's not a bad thing to feel sadness or want to cry.

Lucas Mitzel:
There are appropriate times to push it down. I get that. I would do the same thing. However, when you are in an appropriate space to let it out, you need to let it out. That's the only way it gets out. And that's the only way that healing can really start to happen. There's an analogy that I like to use, especially with kids, just because it seems to resonate with them. Grief is like holding onto a sponge that gets really wet and I don't really want to get wet. And so, because it doesn't feel right on my hands. And so I, instead of allowing the water to escape, naturally, I put it into a cardboard box. Well, what happens when you put a wet sponge in a cardboard box, it starts to get the box all wet. And now not only do I have a wet sponge, but I have a wet box and I got to get rid of the box now.

Lucas Mitzel:
So it's coming out sideways, and it's making a little bit more of a mess than I intended. So then some people at that point, they take it out of the box and they start to ring it out and they deal with it. Other people go a step further and they maybe grab some Tupperware and they put it in that and it's not going to leak out of there. So they seal it up and they put it away. Well, then something happens and they start noticing something, maybe something starts to smell. So they maybe open up the cabinets or whatever they had it in. And it's all moldy and disgusting. And it just, it looks weird and it's just gross. So now the only way to clean it is, we got to open it up, which is even worse now. And we got to kind of scrub all that mold off and that can take some time.

Lucas Mitzel:
And you would do that with a therapist essentially. But the whole point of that analogy is if we don't ring it out right away and just get a little wet, it's going to be a little bit more difficult to clean up in the, in the future. Regardless, we have to clean out the sponge. So it's it's important to encourage that with loved ones. And especially with kids, you know, I think that the most powerful thing that a parent can do, because parents want to be strong for their kids, they want to show them that, you know, everything's in control and that everything's going to be okay. But the most powerful thing a parent can do is to cry in front of their children and show them and role model for them. That grieving is okay and grieving is healthy and it's encouraged, and that will then allow them to do the same thing. Those who a lot of times, people who don't do that, they might start to think that you know, you have to hold it all in. You can't let it out. And that, again, leads to the moldy sponge, which we don't want.

Host Tim Unsinn:
It's been a great conversation. Lucas, you've shared amazing information with us. And I love the fact that podcast we're able to hit pause. We're able to rewind, we hit play. We can go back over the information you've shared with us and just listen to it, apply it, use it, share it, and really learn from it. I really appreciate the podcast. Now, before we go, I ask everyone the same question as we wrap up our podcast. And the question is simply this. You've shared with us. You talk with children, adolescents, young adults, you get a lot of information in. So in getting all that, what do you do personally, to mind your mind?

Lucas Mitzel:
Great question. I love to play guitar. I love music. That's a really big passion of mine. I'm also quite nerdy. For anybody who's been in my office, I have Star Wars stuff put up all over. And so I also like to play video games every now and again. And I love playing board games with family and friends. And so those are some of the ways that I take care of my stress and I mind my mind.

Host Tim Unsinn:
Lucas, thank you for being on mind your mind. We appreciate you so much. Thank you for sharing your time and your talent with us. Thank you for joining us for a mind, your mind, a podcast presented by Dakota Family Services. You can't have health without behavioral health. Remember to mind your mind. For more information links, to additional resources, contact information, and much more go to Dakotafamilyservices.org.

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