April 30, 2021

Stress, Trauma & Grief: Raising Resilient Kids Through Hard Times

Return to Episode

Cindy Lopez:
Welcome to Voices of Compassion, CHC’s podcast series providing courage, connection and compassion, highlighting topics that matter to our community, our parents, families, educators and other professionals. My name is Cindy Lopez, today we’re talking about stress, trauma and grief. About a year ago, we thought we’d be sheltering in place, wearing masks and social distancing for a few weeks or maybe a couple of months, but here we are over a year later. We are tired and stressed, stretched beyond what we thought we could endure. Stressors include things like a parent who’s playing multiple roles, isolation that teens and kids are feeling, loss of what our lives used to be.

In addition many people are also experiencing trauma due to the death of loved ones and frontline healthcare workers who are overwhelmed with what they see every day. A common response to the stress and trauma we are experiencing is grief. Hear about important coping strategies that can lead to greater resilience. We are joined in this conversation today with Tony Cepeda, licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical program manager, and Karly Crockett, licensed clinical social worker, at CHC. Karly and Tony is there anything you’d like to share with our listeners as we get started?

[00:01:28] Karly Crockett, LCSW:
I’ve been here at CHC for the past two and a half years working at the Community Clinic and the South Bay office.

[00:01:34] Tony Cepeda, LMFT:
In addition to the experience and years of therapy that I’ve provided for kids and families, I also have done a lot of community service and volunteering with kids specifically in sports, bible study classes and scouting.

[00:01:54] Cindy Lopez:
Karly and Tony, can you describe a little bit about stress and grief and trauma, as just to give some context to our listeners?

[00:02:03] Tony Cepeda, LMFT:
Yes, everyone in the entire world is experiencing some kind of stress due to this pandemic and all of the consequences of that and sometimes this stress can be excessive. And for trauma, it is when someone is feeling physically threatened or they witness someone else being threatened. And currently there are several different factors that we are experiencing in terms of potential threat. So these include issues for health, social isolation, an unstable home environment and racial violence in our community. Families predominantly they’re worried about health for their kids and for themselves, parents and the social isolation.

[00:03:03] Karly Crockett, LCSW:
I would agree with what Tony is saying in that we all have different stressors because of the pandemic. And I would also say in working with families and children over the past year, that there are a lot of different ways children are responding to the stressors, some have actually flourished finding it safe and more comfortable being at home, whether it’s because they’re concerned about COVID or they find distance learning to be easier. And there are quite a few generalizations I think that are true in the work I’ve done with families where children have struggled with the stress of the changing routine and missing out on their normal life and that brings in the grief too of starting a school year, not having met the teacher in person or starting at a new school and meeting kids online, but not getting to meet them in person, there’s a lot of grief around that opportunity that they missed out on. And so I see stress and grief kind of inner weaving throughout the family’s year we’ve seen different emotions and behaviors presenting in children as they grapple with these different changes and stressors and how to make sense of it and incorporate it into their new life as they adjust to ongoing changes, right, as, as communities reopen and  schools reopen.

[00:04:33] Cindy Lopez:
So thinking  about stress and trauma and grief, is everyone who is experiencing stress also automatically experiencing trauma are those two related, how does that work?

[00:04:50] Tony Cepeda, LMFT:
That’s a good question, Cindy. Just because you have stress doesn’t mean that you have trauma. And something I’ve learned over the years working with kids is you can experience the same event, for example being involved in a car crash, right in that it is potentially a threat to your life and so you can have two kids in the car experiencing the car crash. One will be completely stressed out and focused on, I could have died. It’s an individual response that’s what’s important, but the other kid could respond with, “oh my gosh, that was a wild ride, it was like a rollercoaster.” So, you know, two very different responses to the same potentially traumatic event.

[00:05:47] Cindy Lopez:
Yeah so let’s, shift a little bit to thinking about grief as a result of stress or trauma, in your practice today, how are you seeing grief in the kids and families that you’re working with?

[00:06:00] Karly Crockett, LCSW:
Yeah, I think building off of what we were talking about earlier in regards to different emotions and behaviors I think grief can come out in, in that way with kids at home. So many of the ways that individuals respond to these different changes are very individualized.  I was mentioning earlier with like distance learning some kids have really struggled and their grades have plummeted and others have flourished and felt so much more carefree and lighter at home. And I say the same applies to grief where some children are more introverted and may find it comfortable being at home.

And you know, the little bit of connection they have with their peers online or on the phone meets their social needs. And so they don’t have the same grief or grieving process around changes in their social community and connection as another child who may be more outgoing and extroverted could really feel a loss around wow, I just feel so isolated and I don’t have like the chance to play with my friends at recess or lunch, and I’m just at home all the time with my pesky brother and like that just can really start to bring their mood down. And, and that could be a reflection of that grief. Similarly the other extracurricular activities and things that they’re missing out on because of the pandemic can, can lead to that loss and then that sadness and that withdraw or it can come out in like a more externalized way where you might see more tantrums or more dysregulation because they don’t really know how to make sense of what’s going on, they just know it’s different and it may feel kind of yucky and that’s the grief coming out in an age appropriate way that the parents can then kind of interpret to help their child make meaning of it.

[00:07:54] Cindy Lopez:
Thank you for tuning in!  Just a note, before we continue on with today’s episode,  we hope you’re following us on social media, so you don’t need to wait a whole week between episodes to get engaging, inspiring and educational content from CHC.  Our social handles are linked on our podcast webpage at podcasts.chconline.org.

So we know that as we think about stress and trauma and grief, that resilience is a key factor in our coping skills and so I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about that.

[00:08:33] Tony Cepeda:
The idea of resilience Cindy, I think it’s really important, especially when we’re talking about re-entry and transition back in the school, and the anxiety and worry that’s associated with that. So, first off, let me define resilience, it’s a process of a person adapting well and doing well with changes in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy or significant stress. And the number one key factor in building resilience in children is having a stable, supportive and caring parent or caregiver. So parents, your key to developing resilience in children, is being able to just spend time with your child, listening to them, fostering the relationship that you have with them, building that trust so they feel more comfortable in talking about different stressors and different issues.

Now, I have a couple suggestions for parents on how they can foster resilience in children. So one idea is to problem solve together with your child, it’s a way of coping together and the message here is that your child is not alone in trying to figure out solutions to whatever is stressing them out. They have an ally in you as a parent. And also you’re letting them know that they can come to you when they have concerns and you can help them figure out how to solve it.

Another suggestion is to foster and encourage self-esteem in your children. I think it’s really important always to encourage your children to engage in activities where they feel positive about themselves and where they feel confident and for some kids, it’s a matter of playing games, they feel good about that. but you have to set limits.

Another thing for self-esteem is try and recognize your child’s strengths. Find what their successes are and accomplishments, even if it’s really small: getting a good grade on a test. I mean that, that’s something to celebrate and recognize that, hey, you did a good job and that’s really difficult during distance learning, it’s hard to maintain grades, so recognize that. And then another suggestion for self-esteem, helping your children set realistic and achievable goals, that way they can build on that success and confidence.

And then the last suggestion area that I would recommend for parents is be okay with taking healthy risks. So what does that mean? First off stress is normal, we all have stress to a certain extent. It’s okay to have stress and helping your child to overcome those stressors, help them to overcome manageable stressors. For example, when your child is learning how to swim or ride a bike, a lot of times the issue is just, let’s just try it, let’s get started. Let’s overcome that fear and anxiety of starting something new, but once you do overcome that initial fear, you’re going to be okay. So that’s the idea here with stressors, supporting your kids with overcoming manageable stress.

[00:12:43] Cindy Lopez:
Thank you, Tony. And also just to note to our listeners, Tony and another colleague recently did one of our ask an expert sessions on teaching self-compassion and that’s another way to just support your kids as they’re experiencing stress because if they can be more self-compassionate, they’re going to be more resilient. You can find that in our resource library, Ask an Expert with Tony Cepeda on teaching self-compassion to children, and that is chconline.org/resourcelibrary. So, what are some coping strategies to help people as they deal with their grief and how can parents support their kids as the kids deal with their own grief?

[00:13:32] Karly Crockett, LCSW:
I’m going to build off of what Tony was talking about in the parent’s role regarding resilience because parents also play such a key role in helping children manage grief. As Tony was saying that parents set the tone, they’re the role models and leaders, and they can use that role in their relationship with their child as they guide their child through their grief. So parents can practice communicating with their kid around what they’re experiencing by providing active listening, being patient with their child with the different ups and downs they may experience while grappling with grief, being compassionate towards their child’s experience. It can be easy as an outsider, as an adult to say, “what  that’s upsetting to you like it’s so silly,” and yet for the child, like that’s their lived experience and if they can get the message from their parent, that that makes sense and I see you, and I’m here with you in that experience, regardless of what the parent’s thought or judgment may be on the child’s feeling, the feeling is theirs. And the parent can help validate that and help make meaning for the child, with the child of that feeling so that they can have a better sense of what’s going on for them. And that builds some of that insight, awareness of these emotions, and then building from there, adding more coping skills that the child can use on their own or with the support of the parent to manage the emotions that come up with grief.

So in addition to the support, the parent can provide around communicating and processing the feelings the child’s experiencing. They can also support the child in, in practicing self-soothing strategies to help regulate the emotion. So self-soothing strategies can take on a variety of shapes. It can include grounding, mindfulness, breathing exercises, yoga. It can also involve more upbeat or playful activities like listening to music or singing, dancing, being physically active, different types of movement that incorporate your body and different senses can help soothe the body, which can ensue the emotions and regulate the child. And those are ways that in the moment when they’re experiencing elevated levels of emotion related to grief, they can start to calm back down, and then think more clearly about what’s going on, reflect and make meaning so that they can feel more in control, safer and feel prepared for managing feelings as they come up with the next or ongoing stresses they’re coping with.

[00:16:18] Cindy Lopez:
Thank you so much, Karly and Tony for sharing your expertise and insights on this topic. I’m wondering, if there’s one thing that you hope our listeners would take away from this episode, what would that be?

[00:16:32] Tony Cepeda, LMFT:
Really the key for kids to do well and be more resilient despite all the stress and trauma we’re experiencing now with COVID, parents are the key and just spending time with your child, listening and supporting them is the key factor.

[00:16:54] Karly Crockett, LCSW:
And I would build on to that by adding that the recommendations and strategies Tony and I have reviewed today are all skills that parents already have. I think we are reminding families and parents of what they may already be doing or what they can do more of and these are strengths and skills that they are bringing to their children and in their relationships on a daily basis. And it’s just a helpful nudge to keep doing more of this, especially when they see their child struggling.

[00:17:25] Cindy Lopez:
I also want to remind our listeners that if you’re a parent of a child or an educator and you’re seeing a high degree of anxiety or stress or trauma and you’re not sure if it warrants extra help or not, please reach out to us. You can reach out at chconline.org. We have free 30- minute parent consultations, where you can just come and talk about your child and what’s going on and meet with the clinician and get some guidance regarding next steps. We also offer evaluations and teletherapy as Karly was mentioning so check us out chconline.org. Thank you Karly and Tony so much for investing some time with us today and thank you to all of our listeners, and we hope that you’ll join us again next week.

Find us online at podcasts.chconline.org. Also, please follow us on our socials. Find us on Facebook at chc.paloalto and Twitter and Instagram at CHC_paloalto. You can also visit our YouTube channel at chconlinepaloalto. And we are on LinkedIn. Subscribe to Voices of Compassion on Apple podcasts, Spotify and other podcast apps, and sign up for a virtual village email list so you never miss an update or an episode. I always love to hear from you so send me an email or a voice memo at podcasts@chconline.org or leave us a rating and review. We look forward to you tuning in each week. After all we are in this together. See you next week.

It takes a village.

Receive weekly updates about mental health, education & news with CHC Virtual Village

Sign up for the CHC Virtual Village to receive weekly email updates about upcoming news, events and resources related to your interests.

Enjoying this podcast?

Consider a Gift to the help CHC’s Community Outreach extend further than ever

Enjoying the CHC Voices of Compassion Podcast? Please consider supporting CHC’s Community Education and outreach efforts, like this podcast and CHC Online Resource Library, with a gift today.