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A Child’s Grief Journey

When Jenna passed away in 2014, my younger daughters were only 11 and 9 years old. I knew from the onset that I would need to seek out help for them. I was not only devastated over my own loss but also over my girls’ loss. Our three girls were very close to each other. I was so worried about their happiness. Julia, my 11 year old, was agreeable to seeing a grief counselor but Gigi expressed that she just wanted to share her grief with Paul and I. We honored her wishes. I feared their ability to bounce back from something so catastrophic.

It has been three years now. Gigi will be 13 in less than a month. In that time, I have learned a lot about how children grieve and, for that matter, cope with life’s circumstances. I have witnessed how our minds manage our emotions and in doing so manage our actions. Without the proper coping skills; however, I have also witnessed how life can feel out of our control.

The most important thing I have been able to guide my girls with is helping them develop their own personal awareness of their thoughts, feelings and emotions. In our culture, kids and adults often consider upsets, stress and hurt a sign of weakness and I wanted my girls to know I believed the opposite is true. It’s the strong that seek help.

In my experience, this doesn’t come easy to anyone but without exception, every person throughout history who has experienced happiness despite their life’s circumstances has the ability to recognize the thoughts, feelings and emotions that lie within them. Then they are able to choose what thoughts they will give their energy to and create the life they want despite the challenges, loss and heartaches they’ve experienced in their past. That is real power.

The greatest impact, I feel, I have made on my girls is showing them what’s possible and that if mom can find happiness despite Jenna’s passing, so can they. But this isn’t something I want to just share with my biological children, I want to show all children that the ability to learn coping skills will change their lives for the better and if I can do it, so can they. You and I know that we cannot always spare them from the pain that comes with living a life but we can give them the awareness of their own personal power and how to direct that power in a way that will give them an amazing life.

Because of our family’s journey with the pain and suffering of loss, I am honored that #hersmile is currently shaping a Resiliency & Coping skills curriculum for two of our local schools. Current self-assessment data of pre-teens indicates that from 35% to 100% of 4th to 6th graders already report having difficulty coping with stress, anger or sadness which science has shown leads to problems with learning. Since coping skills are brain habits, by teaching our children these skills they will be prepared for the many emotional changes and challenges that affect our brain’s ability to get over stress, anger and sadness. Since feelings start in our brain, the more we learn about how our coping brain works, the more capable and confident our children will be for the rest of their lives.

by Dena Derenale Betti

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