We really enjoyed our special guest and had such a powerful conversation on episode 9 of “One Day You’ll Thank Me.” Our guest expert was Mandi Zucker (Grief Recovery Specialist). Mandi is also a former school social worker, the founder of Inner Harbor (a supportive program for grieving students) , and the host of a podcast called "The Mourning Meeting", for college students that have experienced loss. Mandi discussed with us how to best support grieving teens.
Many people often think of grief as what one goes through after a death, but how Mandi describes it is the natural, normal reactions we all have to a loss of something meaningful to us. It can be a relationship, an actual person, a job, a home, really anything that has meaning for us personally.
Anna had a great question for Mandi, and that was...Are grief and trauma related?
Yes, they are related, but they don’t always have to be.
Mandi says that when a child experiences a loss of a significant person in their life, it is a trauma, but it doesn’t have to be traumatizing if they get the right support. Most kids do ok if they get the support early on and if they have a healthy functioning adult in their life. Oftentimes, kids look to adults in their life to know how to respond. As the parent, you are able to make a significant difference in your kids life after a loss. There are tools and support that is available.
What signs should parents look for if they are trying to determine if the grief is impacting their kids mental health or their functioning as a college student?
Mandi says that it can be tricky to know because sometimes there are clear signs, like they are drinking or doing drugs, or cutting. Maybe they are locking themselves in their room, or not eating. Sometimes it doesn’t look like that though at all. Sometimes they can look perfectly fine and no one can tell.
The first and best place for parents or friends or anyone to start is to Just Ask. Let them know that you are available. Even if they seem fine and are not talking about the loss, don’t be afraid to ask them about it. By bringing up the topic you will not upset them, it typically makes people feel more validated. By reminding them that it is ok to talk about it might remind them to share that they are struggling. Many people do not look like they are struggling. Many people look just fine.
Also they may have good and bad days, that is perfectly normal. If they tell you that they are doing ok. You can thank them for sharing and know that you have started building the connection by letting them know that you are there if they do need to talk and are having a bad day at some point.
What can parents do to support their kids when they are at a distance, or at college?
Being at a distance can actually be a very good thing. When you are not sharing space with them everyday the frustrations of having a teen (reminding them to clean their room, telling them to take the trash out, moodiness) have gone away. It can create an opportunity to create a meaningful connection with your children that you have not had when they were at home
because they didn’t open up much about how they are feeling. So this is a good time to bring up the topic with them and tell them that you are wondering what it has been like for you since (fill in the blank). This provides an invitation for them to share without pressure. If they want to share that is great and again if not, just let them know that you are there and open to talk about things if they feel like it in the future.
What strategies and coping skills can the college students develop themselves to manage their grief and continue to benefit from the college experience?
If they have been in therapy already, that is a great option to connect with their therapist. There are also counseling centers on campus, although sometimes it takes a while to get in. Without having access to either of those things, it is important to rely on the tools that they have learned throughout their life to manage stressful times and events. Journaling can be powerful or meditation can be very healing. If you normally exercise don’t give that up. Even something like joining a club could be beneficial even if it seems completely off topic. Maybe you find that photography is healing for you.
Also staying away from things that may be destructive for you. Oftentimes, kids can go towards things that are not good for them like using substances, or spending time with people that don’t treat them well, or turning to pornography to escape.
What specific resources can they use in the moment and maybe in crisis or if someone shares with you that they are having suicidal thoughts?
First, you want to listen to them and learn what they are feeling, if it is something they have a plan for, you need to act. Oftentimes, they just need somebody to talk to validate their feelings and to hear that it must be scary to have those thoughts. Thank them for telling you and THEN often resources. It is important for them to share first, then you can gage where they are and respond with validation and then suggest support. There are great crisis lines out there, you can offer to go to the counselling center together. We need to diffuse the initial crisis and make sure they have support going forward.
A note to take away...Always take comments about suicide seriously. We have made that conversation too casual. “If I don’t pass this test, I am going to kill myself” or “I will die if he breaks up with me tonight”. You need to investigate the comment more. Sometimes people say those things to test if you are able to have those kinds of conversations with them. You might say, “Hold on a minute, are you serious? That really scared me”. Let them know it is ok to have that conversation with you and if they are joking...it’s making them aware if down the road they need support around that, you are there for them.
The biggest take away is to let our kids or anyone for that matter, that we are there to talk about their feelings with them. They have support in you, it is ok to have these tough conversations. Just letting someone know that you care is so important.
To learn more about Mandi and her services, Inner Harbor, and her podcast, GO HERE.
To learn more about The Empowered Stepmother coaching group, visit HERE.
To learn more about Dr. Tara Egan's child & adolescent therapy services, visit HERE.
To join our private FB group for parents of high schoolers and soon-to-be high schoolers, visit HERE.
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