How frequently do children or youth get the "message" that it is not okay to feel what they feel? How often have their feelings been ignored? How often are they asked "why" they did what they did, when they are in the feelings of the moment, and do not know why, or cannot express it in words? Children and youth are "telling" us about their grief and painful feelings through their behaviors. They need their pain and hurt to be recognized, validated and accepted before they can continue to sort out their feelings and thoughts as to what they mean.
Children, youth and families need to have permission to feel, to know that it is okay to feel angry, to know that their feelings are real. This month we focus our attention on this topic and provide you with some ideas to help you support the expression of feelings as you support their work.
GRIEF IS NOT A COGNITIVE PROCESS
We are often tempted to try to talk our children and youth out of their challenging behaviors. When we use this approach, we are forgetting that the behaviors are representative of feelings, and that these feelings are being expressed and shared with us in the moment. These moments are opportunities to connect with the pain that our children and youth are feeling deep inside.
Remember these important points in your responses:
Grief is not a cognitive process until the feelings have been acknowledged, supported, and encouraged in expression. The length of time for this process depends on each child and youth.
The tendency is to try to get children and youth to talk about their feelings, and when they do not or will not talk about those feelings, they can be labeled as resistant. However, they might not have the words for those feelings, not trust the "asker", or not want to talk about it at that time.
Grieving is emotional. Grief work is based on expression-of-feelings work. Grief starts with initial denial of the loss or change and subsequently moves on to other feelings: protest, anger, rage, withdraw, sadness, depression and despair.
When children and youth can give language to their experiences, when they can verbally express their wants and not act them out, they can more successful engage in a cognitive grief process, wherein, cognitive therapy is about learning and changing. The cognitive work is woven into and comes after the expression of the many feelings that are part of the grief response.
Disney/Pixar's newest movie is getting a lot of attention in the adoption community, and we think it is a fantastic way to help youth (and their caregivers) understand what's going on with all those emotions!
Check out this review for more information and for some great ideas that can help you use this movie in your work supporting the expression of (and response to) feelings.
Consider adding a few character figurines to your tool kit to help you continue exploration of feelings with your youth as you reference themes in the movie.