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.

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.

Natural and Logical Consequences

Natural and logical consequences are key to raising responsible, respectful, independent children. Unlike punishment, consequences will stop a behaviour permanently. Punishment is effective in stopping a behaviour, but only temporarily, and punishment leads to a child feeling resentful, rebellious and wanting to get revenge. Then the whole reason for the punishment is lost and the focus of the child shifts to ways of getting back, rather than to what is trying to be taught by you giving a punishment in the first place.

What are consequences? Natural consequences are consequences that occur naturally without any intervention and are life’s greatest teacher. The natural consequence of not wearing a coat in cold weather is being cold. For not eating breakfast, it is being hungry until snack time. Of course, some natural consequences, like getting hit by a car for running out into the road is not one that you want to child to experience. As long as the natural consequence does not put the child or anyone else in any danger, then it is acceptable. The child’s safety is paramount!

Logical consequences are those that are imposed and are created by you. However, for a consequence to truly be a consequence it must be REASONABLE, RELATED and RESPECTFUL. If one of these three R’s is missing then the consequence is actually a punishment, so it is important that your consequence not be a disguised punishment. Going to bed for not eating dinner is a punishment as it is not related, reasonable nor respectful. Losing one’s computer privileges for not doing chores is not related. However, losing one’s computer privileges for a day for abuse the computer time limit is related, reasonable and respectful and is a logical consequence. Below are a few logical consequences to some everyday situations. Consequences are meant to teach and you should always leave space for the child to try again. Therefore, the consequence for a first “infraction” is only one day (or a short period of time) and the time increases if the behaviour is repeated.

                BEHAVIOUR                                                                             LOGICAL CONSEQUENCE

Not putting gas in the car after using it                                               Lose the privilege of using the car

Not turning off the computer when time is up                                    Lose computer privileges for the next day

Not cleaning up after playing                                                              Lose those toys for a day

Not putting bike away after riding it                                                   Can’t use bike the next day

Child spills                                                                                     Child cleans up spill

Remember, and sometimes the hardest thing to do, is to remain calm and use a friendly tone when imposing a consequence on your child. This keeps interactions respectful. The last thing to remember is that consequences do not work with children under three as they have not yet reached the age of reason before three.




Mutual Respect

What is respect?

Being respected means being valued as a worthwhile human being. It is being treated with dignity regardless of human differences such as age, gender, race and even knowledge and skill.

There are two parts to mutual respect:

  1. Mutuality is a two-way street (I respect you and you respect me.). For that to happened we must each also respect ourselves.
  2. Equality is the basis for mutual respect. Equality here does not mean sameness but in the fact that we are human beings, belonging to the human family. We all need to be treated with dignity and respect. It means we have value or personal worth simply because we are human beings.

How mutual respect works in an adult/child relationship:

Many of us were raised with the idea that children must respect adults, while children were often treated with disrespect. We were taught to obey and this was enforced with reward and punishment. Children were controlled by the adults in their lives. Under this system, children learned to have others think for them, to avoid mistakes and to be submissive to an external authority.

Mutual respect between adults and children requires us to shift out beliefs and techniques of parenting. While the roles of parent and child are different, the individuals involved are of equal value as human beings. When parents are providing for, nurturing and teaching children in a non-punitive way, children come to believe that they are worthwhile, that they have abilities and that others believe in them and trust them. Parents can most effectively help children to learn to become independent, contributing individuals with strong internal motivation by doing the following:

  • Encouraging and valuing children’s contributions, ideas and efforts.
    • Saying “Thank you for helping/sharing. I appreciate it.”
  • Accepting and acknowledging children’s feelings as valid, legitimate and real.
    • Saying “You’re really sad that you can’t play longer at your friend’s house.”
  • Accepting mistakes as opportunities to learn.
    • Saying “What did you learn from this?” – Also see last point.
  • Finding opportunities for children to makes choices and decisions.
    • Give opportunities to make age appropriate choices early.
  • Giving assistance in, and opportunity for, critical thinking and problem solving.
    • Working trough problems with your child initially to teach the skills and then letting your child do it on his/her own once s/he has the skills
  • Sharing affection and fun with children.
    • Lots of hugs and playing with your children.
  • Remember that example is the most powerful teacher.
    • No comment needed here!

Mutual respect begins early!

Adapted from an article by E. Quiring and B. Johnson.