Helping a Child Cope with Loss of a Pet

child cope with loss of a pet“It’s just a cat.”


Many people do not understand the depth of feeling that some children have with their pet. In helping a child cope with loss of a pet it’s important to makes sure that you do not make your child feel guilty or ashamed about grieving for his pet. For many children, the pet is a beloved member of the family and when the pet dies, the child feels a significant loss. You should validate your child’s feelings when helping a child cope with loss of a pet. Even if you do not understand the “big deal” about losing the pet, you should be supportive of your child’s grief.


For many children, losing a pet is the child’s first experience with grief—and your first opportunity to teach your child about grief. Losing a pet can be very traumatic for a child, especially if the death was sudden or if the pet was euthanized. Many children cannot remember a time in their life when the pet wasn’t around and the loss feels heavy to them.


Some parents feel that they should protect their children from the grief of the loss of a pet by either not talking about the pet’s death or by not being honest about what happened. Pretending that the pet ran away or “went to sleep” can have a negative impact on your child. Your child may end up being more confused or scared. Your child may feel betrayed when he finally learns the truth. It’s better to be honest about the pet’s death with your child and help your child cope with the loss of a pet in a healthy way than to shield your child from the truth. Explain the pet’s death as honestly and simply as you can.


Tips for helping a child cope with loss of a pet:


  • Let your child experience his grief. Even if you don’t experience the same sense of loss that your child is feeling, it’s important to allow your child space to grieve and express his feelings openly, without making him feel ashamed for grieving the pet. Reassure your child that it’s okay to be sad.   
  • While helping a child cope with loss of a pet, reassure your child that the pet’s death was not his fault. Frequently, children think that the family pet died because of something they did. Reassure your child that this is not the case. You may also need to reassure your child that just because the pet died, you or other family members or other family pets will not soon die as well. 
  • It’s okay to involve your child in the dying process. If you have decided to euthanize your pet, be honest with your child. Explain why the choice was necessary. Explain to your child that it’s okay to feel sad, but he shouldn’t feel guilty. Sad and guilty are two very different emotions and make a world of difference in managing grief. Also, allow your child to spend some special time with the pet and say good-bye. Doing so will make it far less likely that your child will blame you or become angry with you in the future.  
  • It’s okay to have a memorial service for your pet. Holding a funeral, creating a memorial, or even planting a tree in honor of your pet can help your child cope with loss of a pet. Memorial rituals are a part of our culture and having a memorial ritual for your family pet can teach children who are experiencing death for the first time about the importance and the healing nature of memorial services for lost loved ones.


If your child is struggling more than you would expect after the loss of a pet, it may be time to seek child counseling services. For children experiencing death for the first time, child counselors can help your child cope with loss of a pet and learn how to grieve in a healthy way.  Call us today.




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How can I help my child through divorce?

How to help my child through divorceDivorce is obviously a stressful and unpleasant time for everyone involved. But how many parents stop to ask “how can I help my child through divorce?”

Parents spend a lot of time hashing out details of the divorce. Financial decisions have to be made, material possessions have to be divided, and custody arrangements have to be established.  Throughout this turbulent time, please don’t overlook your child’s elevated emotional needs.  You might be asking “how can I help my child through divorce?”


Let’s start with breaking the news to your child. This is best done together if at all possible. You should be honest and frank with your child, with an awareness of maturity and developmental level, of course. Encourage your child to ask questions about the divorce and be supportive.


And make sure your child knows, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that it was not his fault. So often, the answer to the question “how can I help my child through divorce?” involves making 100% sure that he knows that the divorce was due to disagreement between his parents, not something that he did. A common theme child counselors address in child counseling for divorce is helping the child to understand it’s not his fault.


Next, always encourage your child to express feelings and communicate openly with both parents. Open communication goes a long way to prevent emotional damage often caused by a heated divorce.


Here are 4 Specific Tips for Parents who ask – “How can I  help my child through Divorce?”


  1. Try to minimize, or ideally eliminate altogether, conflict and arguments between you and your soon to be ex-spouse. Along these same lines, don’t talk about the legal and financial parts of the divorce where your child can hear you. These things are for adult ears only and only serve to make the already difficult transition harder on your child.
  2. Never blame or point the finger at your soon to be ex. However mad you may be at your ex, always remember that your child still loves and cares very much for him or her. Your child’s emotional well-being can be negatively impacted if you play the “blame game” or otherwise badmouth your ex.
  3. Maintain a consistent schedule for your child as much as possible. Things will be chaos, of course, but try the best you can to keep as much of your child’s routine stable as possible. If you always go to Church on Wednesday night, make every effort to continue this throughout the divorce process and beyond. If you always eat breakfast out on Saturday morning, do your best to keep it up.
  4. Make sure your child gets to see both you and his other parent frequently. No matter how angry you are, please, PLEASE, never use your child to get even or hurt your ex! This ends up harming the most vulnerable person involved in the nasty situation- your child. Early on, try to establish and maintain some type of routine with visitation so your child has frequent contact with not just one, but both parents.

Try to apply these guidelines as closely as possible and you will be taking a big step toward helping your child through a divorce. If you follow these and your child still seems to be struggling emotionally, socially or behaviorally, we would be happy to help. Child Counseling and Family Counseling can provide professional support as you learn effective co-parenting strategies and search for answers to the question “how can I help my child through divorce?”


Contact us today to schedule a Free Consultation to see how we can help support your family during a divorce.


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Family Counseling Helps Parents Create Family Routines

family counseling to create family routinesDo you face daily struggles just getting your child out the door in the mornings? Are you always late for work because your 7 year old refuses to put his shoes on when you ask?


You’re not alone.


At Tender Hearts Child Therapy Center, in family counseling we help parents who are facing daily battles with their children. One suggestion we have for parents in family counseling is to implement some family routines. It’s amazing how quickly some of your daily battles with your children will be resolved when you implement and stick to family routines.


4 Tips to Start a Morning Family Routine:


1.  When you first begin a family routine for the mornings, you’ll find that the routine will be more successful if you wake up earlier than you think you need to at first. Get everyone in the household up at least 15 minutes earlier than you think you are going to need. This includes parents. If you have to have your morning coffee before waking the kids, start an additional 15 minutes earlier. This will give the whole family enough time to get everything done before heading off to school and work and not be rushed or running late. As your family gets more comfortable with the family routine and things begin to run more smoothly in the mornings, you can adjust your wake-up times.


2. The second tip we tell parents in family counseling sessions is to get everything done the night before that can be done. For example, pack lunches, lay out clothes, plan breakfast, gather up homework and all other school items in backpacks and put backpacks by the door. For younger kids (or teenagers who just take too long) get showers and baths the night before, as well.


3. To make mornings run even better, give your children more responsibility. Have a morning checklist for your children. This can be an actual checklist or just one that parents go over with their children before leaving. Checklists can include things like:
• Eating breakfast
• Getting dressed
• Hair and teeth brushed
• Put on shoes
• Get backpacks and lunches


4. To try to avoid the morning procrastinators, give your children an incentive if they get ready early. Allow them some time for TV, reading, a computer game, or something else they like to do before heading off to school.


Tender Hearts Family Counseling Tips for Afternoon and Evening Routines:


Since most families are super busy with after-school activities, it’s easy to get out of daily routines. However, as we tell parents in family counseling sessions, children need routines to feel safe and secure in their environments.  Regardless of how many after-school activities your child participates in, there is one thing that every child needs to have in his afternoon and evening routine: homework. It is very important early in the school year to establish a homework routine for your children, even if homework is light in the beginning of the year, but it’s never too late to begin a new family afternoon routine.


Sample Afternoon Family Routine:

  1. Provide a healthy snack, but not too close to dinner.
  2. Allow some “down time.” Younger children will want to play and be physical to burn off the energy built up from sitting all day at school. Older children will probably want to watch TV or socialize with their friends
  3. For younger children, check backpacks every night for notes from the teacher and homework. Add important school dates to your family calendar.
  4. For older children, review assignments, homework, and projects from each class. This can be something as simple as asking your child what he did in math class, science class, English class, etc. while you are preparing dinner.
  5. Provide a space for your child to complete his homework. Remove distractions from the homework area so that your child can focus on the homework.
  6. Check or review homework for completion once your child has finished and pack everything in the child’s backpack for a smoother morning.


Finally, while routines are important for children, it is also important to be flexible with your routines. We tell parents in family counseling that it’s important to make changes as necessary to fit your lifestyle. For example, if you always fix a big breakfast for your children, but you consistently run 10 minutes late, try simplifying breakfast to cereal and toast and save those big breakfasts for the weekends.


If you’re exhausted from the daily battles with your children, family counseling can provide you with support and practical strategies to help end the battles once and for all. Tender Hearts Child Therapy Center specializes in providing Family Counseling to specifically address your family’s unique needs. We don’t use cookie-cutter methods in our family counseling sessions. We pull from a variety of parenting methods to help you find the solutions that work best for your family. Call us Today!



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Promoting Thanksgiving with your Children

ThanksgivingWhat is the meaning of Thanksgiving? Turkey and pumpkin pie? Cranky relatives? A day off school? A day to play video games? Football? Black Friday? Only 1 month till Christmas?


These thoughts were not in the original intent of the holiday. The story of the first Thanksgiving is one of blessings after loss, survival through adversity and friendship, yet the story is often not taught in our schools any more. In 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated a plentiful harvest after a year of scarcity by giving thanks to God and sharing in food and recreation with the Native American people who had helped them survive. The Continental Congress proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving in 1777. In 1789 President George Washington declared Thanksgiving “was a day of public thanksgiving and prayer.” It was not until 1941; however, that Congress officially declared Thanksgiving to be a National Holiday celebrated the fourth Thursday in November.


In our fast paced and commercialized lives, we are often caught up in rushing through our days and thinking of the next big event. We often forget to reflect on the true meaning of our life experiences and the opportunities we have to teach our children valuable life lessons. Thanksgiving is a opportunity for us to recognize and teach our children the importance of being thankful and giving thanks.


The true meaning of Thanksgiving extends beyond gratitude for our blessings. It is recognition of survival of our disappointments that sweeten blessings. It is also a model for positive thinking which is about choosing to focus on the positive vs. the negative. Studies show people who are grateful report higher levels of happiness and optimism and lower levels of depression and stress.


Gratefulness is not an inborn trait; it is a learned behavior. By learning gratitude, we become more polite and pleasant ourselves. Additionally, we become more aware and sensitive to others.


Tips to Begin your Journey to Gratitude and to Teach the True Meaning of Thanksgiving to your Children:


  1. Read stories which tell the story of the origins of the first Thanksgiving holiday. 
  2. Use the Thanksgiving Celebration to launch a daily discussion in which you share what you are thankful for and invite your children to tell what they are grateful for. Include in your discussion gratefulness for triumph over adversity and disappointments.   
  3. Teach your children about helping hands. Challenge yourself and your children to commit to an act of kindness towards others daily.   
  4. Teach your children to write thank you notes not only for material possessions but when others show them kindness.   
  5. Model gratitude. Thank people in your life, including your child, for doing good things and showing kindness.   
  6. Teach your child to focus on what they have, not what they don’t have. Teach your children an awareness that there are always others who are less fortunate.    
  7. Teach your children about “No.” If we always get what we want when we want, it is hard to appreciate receiving.  
  8. Use this Thanksgiving holiday to extend the meaning of Thanksgiving from a one day celebration of stuffing yourself with turkey and pumpkin pie to embracing the true meaning of gratitude and a daily celebration of Thanksgiving.

(This post was originally written for our Parent Newsletter in 2013 by one of our former therapists.)   

If you feel your family is disconnected and want support creating a loving, nurturing family, then family counseling at Tender Hearts Child Therapy Center can help.  Call us Today to learn how our family counselors are creating stronger families!



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Can Counseling help my child with ADHD?

Child ADHD CounselingThis is one of the more common questions we often get from parents and even other professionals who frequently work with children.  Often parents are concerned about side effects of medication and simply don’t want their child to be dependent on a pill to manage their behaviors.  So hopefully this post will help clarify something we’ve known here at Tender Hearts Child Therapy Center for several years…


Counseling can DEFINITELY help your child learn to manage Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms!  

Child and Family Counselors here at Tender Hearts are experienced in working with children and families dealing with ADHD behaviors.  Children struggling with ADHD can benefit from counseling in several ways.  Some of the more common areas of focus for child ADHD counseling include:


Parenting Skills/Behavioral Management   


Children with ADHD seem to always be in trouble.  All day long they hear “Stop doing that this minute!” and “If you do that one more time, I’m sending you to the office!”  Parents and teachers almost always mean well, they are just doing the best they can with their situation.  But this constant negative attention leads to poor self-esteem, peer problems, and even depression symptoms in children where it has gone on for long periods of time.


How Family Counseling for ADHD can help with managing negative behaviors:  


One of the primary areas of focus of ADHD counseling for children is family counseling to teach parents effective behavior management skills and how to implement reward systems that focus on the positive behaviors.  Instead of constantly yelling at their children about bad behavior, parents learn to use effective praise so they can instead promote positive behaviors.  And our family counselors also frequently work with your child’s teacher or other school staff to develop these same types of programs in the school setting.  It works best when these positive-focused programs are at work at home and at school.


Social Skills Training  


Children with ADHD also frequently have social skills deficits.  Often it’s hard for them to develop and maintain lasting peer relationships.  Reading social cues and responding appropriately are challenges commonly faced by children with ADHD.


How Child Counseling for ADHD can help children develop better Social Skills:  


Child counselors can help your child learn to read social cues and develop more appropriate social skills needed to develop and maintain healthy peer relationships.  Through use of role-play with the child counselor and group counseling, children can learn and practice appropriate social skills that will serve them in all types of social settings.


Problem-Solving Skills Training & Impulse Control Skills  


Children with ADHD also struggle with poor impulse control.  We often hear parents say things like “he never thinks before he acts” or similar statements.  This is one of the primary characteristics of the impulsive type of ADHD.  If your ADHD child blurts out in class, knocks a peer down at recess for no apparent reason, or seems to always be getting hurt after making poor choices, he or she is simply acting on impulse and not utilizing the problem-solving skills that most of us successfully learn and use in our daily lives.


How Child Counseling for ADHD can help children learn better Problem-Solving and Impulse Control Skills:  


Child counseling can help children develop more effective problem-solving skills through role play and rehearsal.  Problem Solving Skills Training (PSST) is an Evidence-Based Treatment for helping children develop effective problem-solving skills.  With practice, even children with ADHD can learn to incorporate these skills in their day to day interactions and improve decision-making skills.


Impulse control skills can also be improved with child ADHD counseling.  Child counselors can work with your child to teach several impulse control strategies that are very effective in teaching your child to slow down and think before acting.  The STOP Method is one of the more popular ones but several others are utilized by child counselors at Tender Hearts Child Therapy Center.


Strengthening of Self-Esteem  


As mentioned above, children with ADHD frequently deal with criticism and a lot of negative attention.  Day in and day out, a child with ADHD is gets yelled at and disciplined for behaviors that are somewhat out of his or her control.  Who wouldn’t start feeling a little depressed or begin beating themselves up?


How Child Counseling for ADHD can help children build Self-Esteem:  


Child counseling can help children with ADHD learn to focus on what they’re good at and on what they do right.  Child counselors are trained to build self-esteem by helping children focus on their strengths as opposed to their weaknesses.  By coupling self-esteem work with social skills training, your child will be well on the way to a more healthy and happy social life!  


So there you have it.  Four tangible, straightforward ways that child & family counseling can help a child with ADHD.  If your child is struggling with ADHD and you want to try child & family counseling to give him the help he deserves, Contact Us Today to learn more!



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What to Say (and Not to Say) to Your Teen to Improve Family Communication

Family Communication with TeenEver feel like no matter what you say to your teen, your teen just isn’t listening to you or doesn’t care what you have to say?  You’re not alone.  We all know that family communication is vital maintaining a good relationship with our teens.  But sometimes it’s hard to know what to say.


From your teen’s perspective, mom and dad are being too overbearing or trying to pry into their personal business and they just “don’t get it.”


So, how can a parent work on improving open family communication with their teen?  Here are 4 suggestions on what to say and what not to say to your teen.


Try Saying:  “What do you think?”

Avoid:  Lecturing


Effective family communication with teens starts with effective listening. Parents sometimes have a tendency to talk more than they listen, especially when they feel their teen is making a bad decision. But this tendency to lecture only creates conflict and makes it more unlikely that your teen will feel comfortable talking to you about something important in the future—not what you want to do to create open lines of family communication! Be sure to listen to what they have to say in a nonjudgmental way. No matter how much you disagree, start by letting the teen openly express what he has to say before thoughtfully responding. Another good recommendation is to pick at least one meal each day to sit down and eat as a family. This gives families an opportunity to talk about the day’s events or anything else that’s on their minds. If meal time absolutely does not work with your schedule, try to pick a specific time of the day, each day to talk to your teen. Mealtimes are often the easiest but finding the time whenever you can is the most important thing to developing better lines of family communication.


Try Saying:  “Thank you for taking out the trash.”

Avoid Saying:  “You’re just going to turn out just like your brother.  Why won’t you ever listen to me?”


Another point for parents to keep in mind is the concept of “self-fulfilling prophecies.” In this sense, “self-fulfilling prophecy” means that if parents continually talk negatively or do not trust their teen, the teen’s behavior may begin to more closely resemble what mom or dad are already implying. Parents of teens may often take a more controlling or negative tone when speaking to their teen, especially if there is already good reason for mom and dad to be on guard. When parents take a more negative stance in their conversations, the teen may feel like mom and dad do not trust them and nothing they do or say will make a difference. Therefore, they may feel they have nothing to lose with their behaviors. Be careful with taking a negative tone and focusing only on the negative with your teen. This will only make them shut down even more and leads to further damage to the open lines of family communication that parents are hopefully trying to encourage. While it may be hard in some cases, always try to focus on whatever positives your teen is doing and not just the negatives. By also taking the time to mention and talk about the good things the teen is doing, parents can promote their chances of keeping more open lines of family communication.


Try Saying:  “Tell me more.”  or “I’m listening.”

Avoid Saying:  “Don’t worry about it.  You won’t even remember this in 5 years anyway”


Remember when you were 13 years old and your parents said something along these lines? While parents may mean well when they say something like this, and quite often they are exactly right, teens interpret this kind of thing differently. Mom and dad “just don’t get it” or “they don’t understand” are common reactions on the part of the teen. Many of you probably remember feeling that way yourself when you were a teen. Yet we so often repeat our parent’s mistakes now that the shoe is on the other foot and we are parents ourselves. Be sure to listen and let your teen know that you are hearing what they are saying. Don’t simply brush over what seems like an insignificant problem to you if your teen comes to you or opens up about something that is on his or her mind. If the problem is important enough that your teen comes to you for advice or just to “vent,” remember to keep an open mind and never minimize what may be an important issue at that time in their life.  If you want better family communication, then you need to be a good listener to your teen and not just expect them to listen to you only.


Try Saying:  “Now that you are older, we can discuss a later bed time.”

Avoid Saying: “Bedtime has always been 9pm.  No arguing.  Rules are rules.”


As children grow older and enter the teenage years, parents often have trouble accepting the fact that rules and expectations need to change as well. As a parent, it’s easy to rattle off the rules that have been in place for the past several years. But as teens grow older, it is our duty as parents to adapt and adjust those rules to allow our teen to enter a world of more freedom coupled with more responsibility.  It’s easy to simply say, “no, you know the rules” without really stopping to think about what your maturing teen may be asking for. Parents who keep an open mind and model good compromising and negotiating skills are not only teaching their teen a valuable life lesson but also building respect and maintaining open lines of family communication.


If you’re struggling with what to say to your teen and want to improve your family communication, call Tender Hearts Child Therapy Center today to schedule a family counseling appointment and start learning effective communication skills from a trained Family Counselor!



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