Youth, Grief and Trauma: Tips for Parents from University of Texas’s Dr. Julie Kaplow

This spring, we announced a new partnership with the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Trauma and Grief (TAG) Center for Youth to help arm care providers with better tools to identify and deliver support to children who are acutely suffering the burden of grief.

Our $1.55 million grant supports the Center’s establishment of the GIFT (Grief-Informed Foundations of Treatment) network, a multi-site practice-research network that will help refine and shape best practices for grief care providers, including community agencies, grief support facilities, and schools/academic institutions.

In a recent article from UT Health’s Online Wellness Magazine, the Center’s head, Dr. Julie Kaplow, offers expert guidance for parents to help children heal from trauma or grief – including actively seeking out specialized care. Here’s an excerpt from the article with Kaplow’s tips for parents:

  • Get the right help. Seek an evaluation from a therapist who has received specialized training in either trauma or grief. This is an essential first step. If your child is dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic event or death, you want to see a clinician who has training and experience treating those problems. It’s best not to enlist someone from the family to evaluate the child. Often, it’s easier for a professional to connect with the child than someone who is a part of the family.
  • Start talking. Have an “open door” policy at home. The parent needs to communicate to the child, “what you have to say is important, and I’m here when you need me.” The aim is to strike the right balance: You don’t want to push the child to talk about things when he/she is not ready, yet you want to help the child recognize that you are there whenever you are needed.
  • Try not to overshare. Parents who over-express themselves about their own traumatic or grief reactions can overwhelm their children. After a death or traumatic event, the goal is to strike a happy medium between expressing some feelings, like “I miss daddy too,” or “I’m sorry this happened,” or “I feel sad about that,” and validating the child’s own reactions without overstepping your bounds by treating the child as a confidant. When that happens, the child begins to feel responsible for the parent’s reactions.