Trauma Grief and Loss: Self Care

In response to the Han family murders, the Santa Barbara Response Network (SBRN) would like to share the following message of self-care for all members of the community who have been impacted by this tragedy. Take care of yourself and others who maybe hurting.

As we grieve it is important to remember to take care of ourselves. Whether we are grieving the death of a loved one, or of people we who die tragically that we hear about, we tend to take self-care for granted when we are feeling sad.
The following suggestions apply to any kind of loss sadness or shock you might be experiencing.
Listen to your body: If you need to cry, then cry. If you need to sleep, then do so. If you need to talk to someone, seek out someone who will listen. If you need to reminisce, then take the time.
Lower expectations for yourself: You can’t expect yourself to run at full capacity for some time. Give yourself a break and don’t expect yourself to perform as well as you did prior to your loss. Educate others that it will take some time before your performance is back to normal.
Let others know what you need from them: Don’t expect others to know what you need. Communicate to family and friends how they can support you.
If you need counseling, do get it: Get all the support you need. There are many bereavement support groups as well as counselors or spiritual advisors who specialize in bereavement counseling. Don’t hesitate to contact a medical and or mental health specialist if you have feelings of hopelessness or suicidal thoughts.
Take the time to do the things you need to do for yourself: When you feel up to it, engage in activities to which you feel drawn. It could be visiting a place you haven’t been to in a while, walks in nature, reading, etc.
Pamper yourself: Treat yourself well, do things for yourself that are helpful like walks, being with people who are nurturing to you, and inexpensive activities.
Keep a journal: Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you to validate and work through your grief.
Get physical exercise: If you exercised prior to your loss, try to maintain the same routine. Physical exercise can improve the way you feel.
Obtain a proper diet and sleep: Maintaining a healthy diet and getting proper sleep is essential for functioning as well as you can. If you are having difficulty with either, visit your doctor.
Be aware of others’ reactions: Be aware that people have different ideas not only about death, but also about how bereaved individuals should react. Be true to yourself.

* * *

How to Talk to Children After Trauma and Death

Excerpted from “Caring for Kids after Trauma and Death”: New York University Child Study Center © 2002

Preschoolers and Young Children: 3-5 Year Olds
Common reactions to trauma and death:
• separation fears (e.g. from parents/loved ones)
• clinging
• tantrums, irritable outbursts
• fighting
• crying
• withdrawal
• regression to earlier behavior (e.g. bed-wetting, thumb sucking)
• sleep difficulty (e.g. nightmares, difficulty sleeping alone)
• increased usual fears (e.g. the dark, monsters)
• magical thinking, believing the person will reappear
• acting and talking as if the person is not sick or is still alive

What they know and feel about death:
• focus on concrete details
• personalize the experience; believe they may have caused it
• seek control
• believe that death is punishment
• equate death with things that are still and life with things that move
• inability to manage time and finality
• believe death is reversible
• believe the dead person still has living qualities

What to say and do:
• Monitor adult conversations around children.
• Correct misinformation and fantasies.
• Give honest and clear answers; use simple explanations about causes of the event or death; “some people do harmful things,” “when people die we can’t see them anymore but we can look at pictures and remember them.”
• Relate similar experiences: “When you hurt your foot, you skipped T-ball practice for 3 days until you felt better; Mommy got hurt when she fell on the street and had to go to the hospital for 3 days.”
• Make clear distinctions between a child’s experience and that of a parent: “When you got an ear infection the doctor had one right medicine to make you better fast, but the doctors have a lot of different medicines to try to make Daddy better so it will take longer.”
• Use real vocabulary for the trauma or death, avoid euphemisms.
• Use concrete terms to describe places and situations (e.g. “IVs are like straws to give medicine”).
• Help label emotional reactions and feelings.
• Reinforce the fact that the child is not at fault; that thoughts, words, behaviors don’t make people get hurt or die.
• Reinforce the fact that disasters and death are not forms of punishment.
• Accept fluctuations in mood.
• Accept regressed behavior, but help the child regain control.
• Provide limits for inappropriate behavior (e.g. “You can’t stay up until 11 o’clock tonight, but I’ll sit next to you until you fall asleep.”).
• Establish consistent, secure, stable care-taking.
• Allow participation and choice, as desired by the child, for hospital or funeral/memorial-related activities.
• Expect repetition of questions
• Expect that they may think someone who has died will come back.
• Tell stories and show pictures of the person who died to create connections and solidify memories.
• Allow for fun and release activities.
• Look for and encourage expression of feelings in play, art.
• Use outside resources such as books

Common reactions to trauma and death
• anger, fighting, bullying
• denial
• irritability
• self-blame
• fluctuating moods
• fear of separation, being alone, or events recurring
• withdrawal
• regression to earlier behavior
• physical complaints (e.g. stomachaches, headaches)
• school problems (e.g. avoidance, academic difficulty,
• difficulty concentrating)

What they know and feel about death
• fascination with details
• increased vocabulary and understanding of concepts for germs, contagion, etc.
• increased understanding of personal health and safety
• personification of death; belief in boogeyman
• incongruent/mismatch between emotions and understanding of death
• belief in power of own thoughts to cause death
• “perfect child” (to correct or prevent death) or “bad child” syndrome (being bad as punishment for past death and anticipation of future punishment)
• wish to be reunited with deceased

What to say and do
• Provide clear and honest information, describing what you know and even admitting that no one knows the answer to certain questions, such as why the incident happened.
• Find out what a child already thinks and knows and ask the child questions rather than make assumptions about the child’s needs.
• Be concrete rather than vague; use simple diagrams and pictures to explain such things as the body and injuries.
• Describe the event and/or death accurately.
• Prepare the child for anticipated changes such as a need to attend a new school, destruction of a playground, and talk about what it will mean for the child.
• Prepare the child for changes in routines or in the household functioning; let the child know about different car pool arrangements or if Daddy will be out of work for a few months. Explain it will be nice to be together more but they may not eat as many dinners out.
• Encourage communication of unpleasant, confusing feelings.
• Validate and normalize reactions and difficulties in school, with peers, with family.
• Allow for repetitive questions and a search for answers.
• Be sensitive to clues of child’s self-blame and correct myths and misunderstandings.
• Monitor changes in other areas of life: academic, social, sports.
• Cooperate with adults in the child’s larger network who will be affected by and can help with changes in the child’s life (e.g. teachers, coaches, friends’ parents).
• Encourage participation in memorial-related activities according to child’s wishes and timetable; find out if, how and when a child wants to contribute to the situation. Ask at different intervals as situations and feelings change. Give them permission to withdraw and re-enter family events as they need.
• Use calendars & charts to visually describe, predict and plan for normal events.
• Encourage involvement in typical and familiar age appropriate recreational and social activities.
• Encourage expression of feelings: verbally, in play or in art, in private, with parents or peers.
• Help children in dealing with others. Discuss preferences regarding desires to keep things private, practice what to say when explaining the situation.
• Use outside resources, such as books, for explanations of information and feelings.

Common reactions to trauma and death
• crying
• longing for someone who has died
• aggression, irritability, bullying
• resentment
• sadness, isolation, withdrawal
• fears, anxiety, panic
• suppressed emotions, denial, avoidance
• self-blame, guilt
• sleep disturbance
• concern about physical health and physical complaints
• academic problems or decline, school refusal, memory problems
• repetitive thoughts or talk with peers
• “hysterical” expressions of concern and need to help

What they know and feel about death
• mature understanding of death: its permanence, irreversibility, inevitability, universality and nonfunctioning of the body
• adult-like responses (e.g. sadness, anger)
• exaggerated attempts to protect/help caregivers and family members
• sense of responsibility to family conflicts with desire to continue social involvement
• feelings go underground
• feeling different than others who have not experienced a death

What to say and do
• Engage in more specific discussions about the cause of the event or death and invite questions. Allow the child to express his or her personal story of events.
• Look for opportunities to address feelings when the child is ready or as different situations arise. Let children choose their own pace.
• Support and accept expression of all types of feelings.
• Educate children about common reactions (anger, sadness etc.) and the risks involved in avoiding difficult feelings.
• Offer and seek various people and outlets for expression; some children feel uncomfortable expressing strong emotions to their parents for fear of upsetting or hurting them.
• Discuss changes that will occur in the household; ask for input when negotiating new ways of handling situations.
• Avoid unnecessary changes.
• Encourage discussion about managing new responsibilities.
• Ask children how and what they want to say to others (e.g. friends, teachers).
• Accept help from others.
• Encourage and allow involvement in outside activities.
• Encourage memorialization of someone who died in ways that are personally meaningful.
• Share aspects of one’s own response and ways of coping.


Santa Barbara Response Network: (805) 699-5608 or email
Santa Barbara County Department of Behavioral Wellness: (888) 868-1649

event calendar sponsored by:
Recent Comments