Supporting Children with Sudden and Traumatic Loss

Dallas Shirley

Sudden or traumatic loss can be one of the most difficult losses to cope with for many reasons. The way in which someone died may be hard to think of when the death was traumatic. We may feel conflicting feelings of anger, sadness, betrayal, fondness, relief, guilt, and love all at the same time.

If our loved one who died did not tell us they were ill or did not pursue the help or support they needed, we may feel frustration/anger/resentment towards them. If we had an estranged relationship, we may be sad grieving the loss and at the same time be angry that the relationship was not what it could have or should have been.

We may have a hard time connecting with others who may not understand the complicated feelings we are experiencing. We may feel as if we are alone.

Toy standing by themselves in front of a tree with other toys sitting together in the background

In the last year and a half…

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Behaviours are an Expression of Feelings

Dallas Shirley

For children, often play and sometimes challenging behaviours are an expression of feelings. Rarely will children come home from a hard day and tell you exactly what happened.

More often, children will show you how they are feeling through play or behaviours that can sometimes be challenging. Also, the feelings being expressed may not be what you think they are. What I mean by this, is sometimes what appears to be anger, may actually be guilt, shame, embarrassment, or some other feeling that may be more difficult to express to others. In my experience, anger is more normalized. I see more people in movies, in public, in my work, and in my life show anger than I have seen people share feelings of embarrassment. It can be hard to express these possibly vulnerable feelings.

Small toys in a treehouse with circles of different colours on their stomachs

One of the best metaphors I’ve heard, that I will never forget, is that feelings can…

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What I’ve Learned About Tele-Counselling

When I first had to shut down my office and start seeing clients online, I was horrified, thinking that there was no way counselling that was meaningful or effective could be done online. As it turns out, I was VERY wrong. The online platform has surprised me. I have been able to connect with clients as well, if not better, than if I were face-to-face. As I have to focus intently, I am able to attune and be more present for my client. A screen, versus in person, does not hinder my ability to “feel” my client. Additionally, my clients oftentimes feel more comfortable as they are in their own environment in which I am their “guest” rather than them being a “guest” in my office.

Yes, of course, technology comes with its headaches. Someone’s screen will freeze or there may be a poor connection, making communication more difficult. Well, we can sign off and restart the platform. It’s not the end of the world. There are a multitude of creative ways to get connected if connectivity is poor, so a solution is always available.

Working with children online has also proven to be surprisingly good. At times I will work with a parent/child dyad in a play session. We may not have the vast assortment of toys that are available in my playroom, but children get to show me their toys and their world. Again, I get a sense that the children too are more relaxed in session because of the familiarity of their own environment. And let’s not forget that children and teens are very comfortable with technology. Can I read their non-verbal cues? Of course I can. Can we co-regulate to encourage self-regulation? No problem. Do I see forward movement toward growth in the children using online counselling? Beyond a doubt and parents report the positive changes they are noticing too.

I am grateful that COVID-19 has provided me with an opportunity to experience online counselling as I never would have offered this otherwise. I would have missed an opportunity of being able to meet my clients’ needs in a different fashion, one that may actually be more comfortable and satisfying to them. Even horrific events like pandemics can provide us with blessings.


Yale Child Study Family Resources and Suggestions for Coping with Coronavirus

Here is a long list of resources for children and families.


 The National Association of School Psychologists

Guide for parents addressing talking to children and creating structure and predictability for daily life at home, available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Amharic, Korean, French, and Vietnamese

World Health Organization

Helping children cope with stress during the 2019-nCov outbreak

Child Mind Institute

Talking with Kids About the Coronavirus

Child Mind Institute

Supporting Kids During the Covid-19 Crisis

Child Mind Institute

How to Avoid Passing Anxiety on to Your Kids

Child Mind Institute

How Can We Help Kids with Transitions?

Child Mind Institute

When Siblings Won’t Stop Fighting

The American Academy of Child Psychiatry

14 Tips for Talking to Children\

Children’s National

Answers Adults Can Offer to Answer Common Questions Children May Ask


Guidance for talking with children of different ages in helpful ways


Social Story About Coronavirus

NPR Comic Book to Calm Fears About Catching the Virus

Children’s Guide Appropriate for School-aged Children

PBS Article

Information Language for Talking to Kids about Coronavirus

Links to Television episodes that address different aspects of health

Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development

Resources for young children and children with developmental disabilities

 Science Podcast for Kids

Explains Coronavirus for kids, available in English and Spanish

 Free children’s book in Spanish

To help children and adults talk about Coronavirus (with useful parent guide)


Khan Academy

Offers school closure resources; wide range of learning activities


Math games

 Mystery Doug

K-5 Science lessons

 Nitro Type

Online typing game

 Typing Club

Online typing instruction

 History for Kids

Free history network for kids


Fun online learning for pre-k through grade six and beyond

Virtual field trips

Virtual tours of 12 museums

NASA Kids Club

Grade k- 12 activities

Starfall Prek-3 literacy and math

For struggling/ reluctant readers

Kids National Geographic

Fun learning activities

Into the Book

Fun reading strategies


Reading/ games/ videos


Learning games and apps

Story Online




Resources for families



Offering free internet access to homes with students


Free internet for kids who get reduced school lunches


 Meri Cherry

Process art projects and activities for kids

The Artful Parent

Spring activities for kids

Mo Willems (author of the popular “Elephant & Piggie” and “Pigeon” series)

Daily live doodle with kids

 Arts and Culture

Museum tours and more

McHarper Manor

Art classes on line

Lani Rosen (local yoga instructor)

Free online yoga classes for children and families twice daily

Yoga Online

Free yoga classes




Chutes & Ladders










Inclusive Storytime

Information about picture books with characters as well as authors and illustrations with diverse backgrounds

For purchase

Stories from Space

Features videos and access to books

 Storyline Online

Children’s stories read by famous people

Front Range Downloadable Library

Options to borrow books

Mindheart COVIBOOK

Printable activities in several languages

Children’s Psychological Health Center

Guided activity workbooks

People Get Ready Book Store

9:00 a.m. Daily live children’s books readings


 Cooking with children

Playdough Recipes

Original recipe

Gluten Free recipe

Slime Recipe


PBS Kids

English and Spanish ages 4-7- games/ videos/ learning activities

 Wow in the World Podcast

Journey into the wonders of the world

Meditation App

Guided meditations, stories, music & more

Anti-Coloring Book info & app

5 scavenger hunts with free pintables

8 sorting activities with things you likely have at home

Day-by-day projects to keep kids reading, thinking, and growing

Foundational preschool skills

Foundational preschool skills


Expert reviews, objective advice & helpful tools

Child Study Center Social Work Fellows

Website of activities related to nature that can be done at home either inside or outside




Games to Play With Kids Now That You’re Isolating Due to COVID-19.

In a neighbourhood in Silver Spring, MD (wonderfully diverse in all ways), someone came up with an ingenious idea!  Neighbours were invited (via their list serve) to place teddy bears in their front windows so that families wanting to pry their housebound kids away from TV and video games could propose — not just “going for a walk,” (BOR-ing!) — but, instead, “going bear hunting.”  One neighbour even drew up a map of the neighbourhood with all the houses with bears marked on it, so families could search for them all.  Pooh Bears, pandas, teddies and koalas appeared in windows all over the ‘hood.  Young kids and parents were all energized and delighted, and all are getting good exercise!  They are also staying closely connected without any neighbour getting within six feet of any other neighbour!  (The same neighbourhood has organized a list of helpers, ready to run errands to help shut-in elders)
GAME PIGEON – text to one another
UNO and other games can be played with an account with ROBLEX
Math games:


Single Parent? This is What You Should be Reading Right Now

This is an article written by single dad Daniel Sherwin –

Raising a child when you have a partner is difficult enough, but for a single parent, the experience can be overwhelming. Trying to maintain a job, take care of household duties and ensure your child is on a good path may seem like an epic feat, but by implementing organization and planning skills into your routine, you can live a more balanced and stress-free life. This is not to say that being a single parent doesn’t have its share of challenges, but you’ll be able to enjoy more quality moments with your child if you have a solid action plan.

Stay Organized

You’re the only one running the show, so it’s crucial that you’re organized.

● Facilitate to-do lists so you can prioritize tasks.
● Make an effort to fill out your digital calendar and set reminders for important tasks such as soccer practice or a doctor’s appointment, but also make a family calendar (such as a large desk version) where everyone can share schedules, activities, appointments, meetings, etc., in one place. Review at the beginning of the week so everyone is on the same page.
● Choose a central communication center within your home — one place where the planning calendar, mail, messages, etc. can always be found. Ensure that it’s a tidy area free from clutter.
● Clutter should actually be eliminated in all areas of the home as it only creates more stress.

Keep A Good Routine For Your Child

Routines are a critical part of a well-run household. Establishing bedtimes, mealtimes, homework sessions, and curfews will benefit your child from a mental health and structure standpoint, but it will also help you effectively plan your own schedule since your child’s routine should remain relatively consistent.

Set Limits

It can be difficult to set limits as a single parent because you may feel sorry for your child, but this will only have an adverse effect. Establish solid ground rules with your child and make sure that you’re always enforcing them. Should there be a caretaker involved, make sure he/she is aware of your expectations.

Simplify Tasks

Not having enough time to do everything is one of the biggest concerns of a single parent — but it’s about working smarter, not harder.

● Cook and freeze meals for the week.
● Take care of all errands (filling the car with gas, grocery shopping, dry cleaners, etc.) in one session so you have more free time during the week.
● Prioritize your activities and learn the power of “no” if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
● Set aside a specific block of time for busy work such as paying bills, returning calls, and scheduling appointments.

Banish Feelings Of Guilt

It’s natural to have some feelings of guilt and to question your abilities from time to time, but these emotions shouldn’t consume your thoughts.

● Identify why you’re feeling guilty so you can establish a plan of action, whether that means therapy, or making an apology.
● Realize that your feelings may be harming your child. Approach your feelings in a healthy way in order to establish a harmonious and happy home environment.
● Forgive yourself and others in order to move forward.
● Redirect feelings of guilt and sadness to feelings of happiness with your child.

Show Your Love

Research has shown that kids from a broken home are five times more likely to suffer from mental health issues than children whose parents stay together. Don’t get so caught up in the stress and minutiae of daily life that you forget to give your child unconditional love and support. Make an effort to spend time quality time together each day.

Find Time For Self-Care

It can be easy to put yourself last, but it’s crucial that you take care of yourself if you’re going to effectively take care of your family. Personal grooming, stress management, exercise, and free time with friends are all important in order to maintain a sense of personal balance in your life.

Find Support

Whether it’s friends, family, or neighbors, it’s okay to ask for help. If you’re hiring an outside caretaker, be sure to do your homework by asking other parents for recommendations. Alternatively, use a reliable service that reveals the credentials and background information of its service providers. Single parent groups are also great places for like-minded camarederie and an opportunity to vent and exchange tips.

At the end of the day, you’re not Superman or Superwoman, so be transparent with your children. It’s okay to admit that you’re having a bad day, but reassure them that things will be better. Just make sure you’re giving your child an age-appropriate level of responsibility so they don’t feel the weight of your single-parenting experience on their shoulders. As difficult as it may be at times, try to stay positive and have a sense of humor when dealing with daily challenges.

Having Fun with Parenting

2015-04-life-of-pix-free-stock-photos-kid-boy-bubbles-back-leeroy-copieI saw an article in the December 2014 issue of Today’s Parent magazine and it was a good reminder that we parents CAN have fun while parenting. We think that being parents means that we have to be serious when it comes to dealing with our children’s behaviours.

Here are some fun ways to deal with some of those day-to-day things:

Can’t get your child to get dressed in the morning? This can be a real pain so add a bit of silliness.
Put your child’s pants on his head and as you struggle to put them on his head, you’ll find your child laughing at how silly you are and correcting you as to where the pants actually go.

Mealtimes can become quite a battleground with children not wanting to eat what’s on their plates.
Make dinnertime about conversation not about the food. Sit down and talk about the best/worst/silliest/funniest part of the day. Once children are talking they will forget what’s on their plate. You could also use something like the “Ungame” for conversation starters.

If the dinner table has become a real battleground, shake it up a bit. Take a blanket, spread it UNDER the table and eat there. The children will be so excited about this that they will forget about what is on their plate.

“Please use words that I can understand.” can be frustrating to continually say as well as hear.
So instead say, “Can you please change the channel? This seems to be the whining channel.” Then go up and push the child’s nose as if you were changing the channel on the TV.

Children will fight and it is healthy for them to fight and to be able to work their battles on their own once they have been taught how problem solving skills, but once in a while this is fun too when you see two children fighting over a toy.
Grab the toy they are fighting over turn it over in your hands while saying, “No wonder you guys are fighting over this toy! This is so cool. I want to play with it!” then run away with the toy. The children will end up chasing you for the toy, working together to get the toy back from you. Once they have gotten the toy back you can tell them what a good job they did at working together to get the toy back from you.

Once the clean up song stops working it’s time to switch things up a bit.
Have the children pretend that they are vacuum cleaners or magnets.
Do something similar to musical chair and play music while the toys are being picked up and whoever has a toy in their hand when the music goes off needs to pick up two toys.
Play cumulative clean up. Have each child pick up one toy and put it away, then two at a time, then three at a time, etc. Once it gets to be too large of a number, then decrease the number of toys they need to pick up at a time.

Here‘s a nice way to deal with the procrastinating child.
After the story, drink, toilet, tuck your child into bed. Have you child come up with a happy thought or a happy place. Have him talk about this place or thought. Then slowly count from 5 and “Poof!” the spell has been cast. Clap your hands, pretend to crack an egg and then run your hands down your child’s body to spread the yolk all the way down to his toes. Now your child has been covered with a love yolk. This is a nice way to get them relaxed and settled in for the night.

Flying With Kids

As spring break approaches, some of you probably have made plans to take a family holiday. The destination has been picked, airline tickets purchased and accommodations booked. As the departure date approaches, you begin to wonder how you will survive the flight with your 3 children. You and your partner know that travel interrupts kids’ routines: eating, playing and sleeping. This makes them prone to melt downs and acting up. …And as if this wasn’t enough, the flight leaves at 7am meaning that you have to get up at some ridiculous hour to arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before the flight! What were you thinking?!?

Here are a few tips to remember as you prepare for the trip.

  1. Pack lots of snacks, both healthy and unhealthy, that your kids love. Remember to pack some gum for take off and landing.
  2. Bring some fun activities for the plane. Sticker books and colouring books are a good choice. Travel games are good too. For an added bonus, bring activities that the kids have never seen before. The newness of activities will earn you a few extra minutes of calm.
  3. Download age appropriate games and apps on iPads and iPhones. You can also download your child’s favourite movie or TV show.
  4. If you are taking an early morning flight, have your kids sleep in their clothes the night before. This allows your kids to sleep as long as possible before having to get up plus they think that it is such a novelty that they get to sleep in their clothes. It’s also on less thing that you have to worry about in the morning.
  5. Remember to relax. It’s hard to travel with children and you will not be alone. There will other parents on the flight so you can be support to each other.
  6. If you are travelling with teens or pre-teens, ask them if they would like to sit on their own rather than sit with you. They will appreciate the independence.

Parenting Adopted Children: Why it is so Difficult!

I came across this article written on a blog site called Emerging Mama. The writer, Monica, does a great job of explaining why this is so. Read the article below and if you would like the link to the original post click here.


We were well into the third year of our family’s new normal, before I had come to the realization that things really were different for us. That no, all kids really don’t do this-whatever “this” may mean at the moment-and that we were not imagining the stress. We were not imagining the frustration. It took nearly four years to accept that the challenges we were facing couldn’t simply be dealt with by working harder or doing more. It took nearly four years to come to terms with the fact that living in a family with children who have experienced early childhood trauma(s) can be an isolating, lonely, and oddly enough traumatizing endeavor, with very unique and difficult challenges. So few on the outside can understand what it’s like to live inside our walls. That is not to suggest whatever is inside our neighbor’s walls is more or less difficult, just different perhaps. Below is my imperfect attempt to give words to some of our family’s daily struggles.

  1. Invisible Disability. Children who have experienced in utero and/or childhood trauma have disabilities that may not be visible to the untrained eye. Our children can look physically healthy and happy, and yet their physiology has been altered by one or more traumatizing events in their lives. Their biology is different. Their brains are physically different. Because 80% of brain cells grow in the first two years of life, the damage experienced during those first years can and does manifest over the course of one’s lifetime. How our children respond to day-to-day stressors is often outside the norm. Our children can and do achieve in school and in other environments. Yet, sometimes they cannot. They can be behaving in socially acceptable ways one moment, and becomedysregulated the next. Disability is defined as “a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities.” When children who have experienced past trauma are “triggered,” their disability shows its face. And yet, while focusing on the behavior or the child, the disability itself, the underlying causes, often remains invisible to eyes who have been taught that disability needs to look, act or talk in a certain way.
    Just because the disability may not be familiar to you, that does not mean it doesn’t exist.


  2. There is SO Little Understanding. While I cannot speak from their perspective, I often wonder if trauma parents today may feel in any way similarly to the way parents of children on the autism spectrum felt a decade or so ago. Living with a general diagnosis that doesn’t quite hit the mark? Confused about how to advise teachers, coaches and other caregivers? Parental instinct and daily realities constantly tell us something is not quite right, but so few resources are able to help us correctly identify what is going on AND what to do about it. Trauma mamas and papas often find support, comfort and professional resources in private online groups or through private conversations with others living this reality. One of the most frustrating parts from my perspective is that not one of our countless home-study visits or adoption agency meetings leading up to our adoption(s) consisted of someone telling us, “This will be the hardest thing you have ever done. Line up the therapists and begin counseling immediately. For your kids, for your family, for your marriage.” Other than a brief online training about RAD, or reactive attachment disorder, which was presented as an extreme and unlikely reality, trauma and it’s likely realities, as they would present in our home, wasn’t even broached.Perhaps that is because the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders) is not even sure how to classify trauma and attachment disorders? There is progress being made, however, and there seems to be chatter about reclassifying PTSD as “a spectrum disorder.” This gives me hope, as so many of our children are definitely on trauma and attachment spectrums. Yet, due to lack of understanding in society, or worse, judgement, we often retreat to our safe places and speak nothing of this. We are simply too tired, to be quite honest, to do more than what is essential each day and yet we desperately need more professionals who understand trauma to be vocal advocates for trauma informed awareness and education. We need those who know and understand to help move society from a place of so little understanding to a place that provides knowledge and resources for parents, teachers and caregivers.
  3. Few Integrated Solutions. Because traditional parenting methods do not work on children who have experienced trauma, because consequences have no lasting impact, because reward and punishments systems do not encourage positive behavior, because our kids often lack cause and effect thinking in the moment and because there is so little understanding in society as a whole about how trauma operates, if often feels like our family is David facing Goliath, with the whole world stacked against future healing and wholeness, through no fault of our child. Yet, there are approaches and systems, or more accurately lifestyle modifications, that do show promise for bringing healing to children who have endured trauma. Trust Based Relational Intervention,  Connected Parenting and Therapeutic Parenting are amazing approaches that truly understand how trauma has impacted our children, why our kids behave they way(s) that they do, and how we should parent our kids to foster healing. These techniques require consistent effort and focus, and are contrary to way most of today’s adults were raised. They are HARD. Personally, I get it wrong more than I get it right. Yet, when I understand that my child is always operating out of fear of the worst case scenario happening again, I can better understand and better respond. Unfortunately, because schools and the greater systems of society do not often operate under these “connected” principles, parents are again alone, either shielding our kids from systems that don’t understand or trying to piecemeal a plan together that is not a win-win, but is also not a lose-lose. Again, we need advocates! We need the training and education to leave academia and enter our educational systems, pediatric offices and our parenting models. 
  4. Secondary Trauma. Maybe you, like I, have learned this the hard way? Maybe you, like I, lived in denial for a long time? Maybe you thought you could solider through or shake it off? Maybe you tried to convince yourself your were imagining things? The truth is, however, I have come to learn the hard way that being the parent and primary caregiver to a traumatized individual or individuals, and constantly being exposed to their trauma, means that there is a high likelihood that I am living with secondary trauma. According toAmy Sugeno, a LCSW and trauma therapist, “Many parents describe feeling burned out, chronically overwhelmed, or fatigued. It can become increasingly difficult to maintain compassion and the desire to nurture, while simultaneously feeling guilty about this. We may shut down and withdraw or be on edge a lot of the time. There can be hopelessness, anxiety, and seemingly unending frustration. Other issues may be more specific to the experiences parents went through during the adoption journey or to the experiences of their adopted children.” In short, many adoptive parents are living with secondary trauma. So busy caring for the needs of those around them, that we forgot to remember we need to be cared for too.

If you can relate to anything written above, you are certainly not alone. The pain is real. The struggle is real. The trauma is real. The isolation is real. More so, the hope is real and the healing can be real too. For our children and for us. While it may seem like no one understands and it is true that few actually do, there are professionals who can relate. There are communities of parents you can join who will support and encourage you. There areapproaches to loving and raising our kids that show promise.

And while we, as parents, certainly need professionals to advocate for our children and families, to educate the educators, and to help us heal, the truth is that YOU will likely become your child’s biggest advocate. I want my child to succeed in school, socially, and in life. Therefore, my choice is to either continue to view myself as minuscule and paralyzed David who is facing a monstrous Goliath, or remember that when David was armed with wisdom and knowledge of a greater plan, he was able to not only face the giant in front of him, but begin to dismantle it. And as daunting as that may seem, perhaps that is exactly where you and I need to begin? By sharing the realities of trauma and the education we have received with everyone who influences and interacts with our children, we can help to begin to move in a new and healing direction.

What has been the biggest challenge of parenting trauma in your life? Where have you seen the most hope and healing? What words of wisdom can you share with others along this path?