When a loved one is grieving you may ask yourself, “How can I support them through this process?”


Intense and painful feelings are normal for a person grieving a loved one. As someone trying to support a grieving family member, it is normal to question if you are saying the right thing but don’t let that stop you from reaching out. Our Resident In Counseling, Karin Purugganan, put together a helpful resource list to offer guidance and support.

We hope you find this list to be helpful to you and your family if suffering a loss. (Click the below image to access the .PDF)


Until next week, Be Wise!

Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash


By Kasey Cain, Resident in Counseling

For the past four years, I have served as a therapist during National Police Week’s Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) Kids/Teens. This program provides grief group therapy for children and siblings who have lost a relative to a line-of-duty death. In addition to providing a safe space for participants to explore their thoughts and feelings surrounding the death, the program aims to connect children with one another and strengthen/develop support systems.  Each year my colleagues and I work to plan meaningful and relevant sessions in the hopes of helping the children learn about grief and loss and become comfortable with wherever they are on their grief and loss journey. While I hope each child leaves the program with useful knowledge or helpful experiences, I am certain I learn from them each year and am a better therapist, parent, and person as a result. 

I’d like to share one specific exchange that occurred during a group discussion on the challenges they have faced and ways their lives have changed since losing their loved one. One 12 year old girl in the group, who had lost her father, said “The hardest thing for me is talking about my dad to other people. I want to talk about him because I love remembering him but I always end up having to comfort other people. When I say my dad was killed everyone gets really uncomfortable and no one ever knows what to say so I end up telling them that everything is fine and they don’t have to worry. It’s a lot of work and it makes me tired. So now I just don’t talk about my dad.”

My heart broke for this girl because what she wanted and needed to talk about was her dad. Unfortunately, other people’s discomfort with the topic of grief and loss prevented her from doing that. I get it, talking about death isn’t fun. It is hard to see someone hurting and it is even harder to know what to say. Still, it is not the grieving person’s job to put everyone else at ease. Instead, when talking to someone experiencing a loss, I invite you to be honest and say something to the effect of “This situation sucks! How can I help? Would you like to talk about your loved one? I am happy to listen.” Those are the words (maybe not verbatim) that I used with that young lady. She smiled and said, “Wow, I don’t have to make anyone here feel better.  We all know it sucks. Let me tell you about the time…”


Photo by Anastasia Vityukova on Unsplash

Intense and painful feelings are normal for a person grieving a loved one. As someone trying to support a grieving family member, it is normal to question if you are saying the right thing but don’t let that stop you from reaching out. You should never force someone to open up but instead let them know you are there to listen if they want to talk. And be willing to sit in silence. Offering a shoulder to cry on or a hug can mean more than words during a difficult time.

Until next time, Be Wise!

Supporting your family through the loss of a loved one is difficult.

It can often cause anxiety to the one who takes on the “grief support role” as the family goes through a loss. Here are some helpful tips from our team of clinicians to help support your family through a loss.

Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash

Kasey Cain, Resident in Counseling:

Elisabeth Kubler Ross first identified the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) in her groundbreaking book, On Death and Dying in 1969. Since then, theories have emerged that transition from “stages” to “tasks”. The word stage suggests that there are specific steps in the process of grieving and one stage must be completed prior to moving on. 

A task, however, is something to be worked on. For example, when you have a “To Do List” you write down all of your tasks. Your list will not be identical to someone else’s list. There does not have to be a particular order when working on these tasks. Just because it is the first one listed does not mean you must tackle it first. Also, you may start a task, walk away from it for something else, and then revisit when ready or needed.

Grieving is more like a series of tasks. It is unique to each individual. There is no specific order or formula to complete the grieving process. A person may reach a “new normal” after a loss but then have an overwhelming feeling of loss again during a special event or anniversary, therefore revisiting the grief. It is a cyclical process that has no one right way.

The key is to treat yourself and others with empathy and grace. Sometimes the most powerful words a grieving person can hear when working on any of their tasks are “I’m here for you” and/or  “How can I help?”


Amanda Beyland, LCSW: 

The death of a loved one is difficult for anyone. Death is often difficult to understand, especially for children and adolescents. The grief that comes with the loss can be felt and shown in different ways as they are dealing with intense feelings that may be difficult for them to understand.

Some children may want to talk, be around others, or stay busy. Others may not feel like talking, want to be left alone and withdraw from their usual activities.

Allow children to grieve, regardless of their process, and listen when they share their feelings.


Photo by Toimetaja tõlkebüroo on Unsplash


Dr. Dominique Adkins, ED.D, LPC, NCC, ACS 

Loss is a universal experience that each person reacts to differently. The grieving process is an on going experience that can seem in a variety of ways. It is important to empower teens to mindfully be aware of their process of grief. They must stay in tune with themselves and take time for self care and reflection.

There is potential for a positive change and healing after experiencing the loss when coupled with family support and professional help. Tedeschi and Calhoun (1996) revealed there is a potential for the following changes;

  1. Improved relationships with others
  2. Greater appreciation for life
  3. New possibilities for one’s life
  4. Greater awareness of personal strengths
  5. Changes in spirituality

These changes for a teen can be beneficial during this stage of identity development. The key is to allow a safe space for exploration and discussion.


Rebecca Staines, LPC:

Grief can come in waves. There are some days where it may hit you harder than others, and that is okay. It is also important to remember that everyone grieves differently. While some may need time and space away, others may want company, and while some may want to stay busy and distracted, others may want to take time to pause and reflect.

Whatever the case may be, make sure to find ways to grieve that work for you. Maybe your grief is expressed by writing down memories, creating a scrapbook, getting involved in a grief and loss group, or even becoming an activist in some way on behalf of your lost loved one.

Grief is a journey that doesn’t have an end destination, and may never fully go away, but as it has been said, grief is the price of love.


Vanessa Mackall Lal, Resident in Counseling:

The death of a loved one is often a very difficult concept for most kids and teens to understand and accept. Understanding that children grieve differently than adults can help adults support children as they experience emotions they may not fully understand.

Throughout the grieving process, children may experience sudden mood swings, often transitioning between crying and playing shortly after. Providing a safe and supportive space for children and teens to express their thoughts and feelings while grieving can help them develop healthy coping and communication skills throughout their grieving process.

It is common to be at a loss of finding the right words while someone is going through the grieving process. You question whether you are saying the right thing or offering enough support. Just remember that “being present” during this difficult time is the best way to support your family. You don’t even have to say anything. Just offer a hug, or a hanky if you sense sadness in your loved one.

Until next week, Be Wise!






Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (1996). The Posttraumatic Growth Inventory: Measuring the positive legacy of trauma. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 9(3), 455–472. https://doi.org/10.1002/jts.2490090305


Our Arlington location is NOW OPEN! We are so excited about our new child, teen and family counseling office in Arlington, VA – Can you tell?

Below is a picture of the new space, and we have a team of FANTASTIC clinicians available weekdays and weekends to meet your family! Contact us today for an appointment.

We also want to share some of the family-friendly businesses around us on Lee Highway in Arlington.

This is a super cute toy and bookstore just a block away from us! It is a great place to visit after your child’s appointment, or to take siblings to while they wait. We are excited to partner with them on some fun events and giveaways in the coming months.

Childs Play Toys and Books, Arlington


This is THE PLACE to get take out in North Arlington. It doesn’t look like much from the street, but you will be blown away by the deliciousness! We can see the sign from our window and we can SMELL THE CHICKEN! Pick up your dinner while your child is in their counseling appointment and have an easy evening meal.

Crisp and Juicy, Arlington


This is a lovely ballet and dance school just up the street from us. It is called Adagio and they run many classes as well as an amazing summer program. We are excited to partner with them for some events soon!

Adagio Dance School, Arlington


We look forward to seeing new and current clients at our Arlington location! Our team of clinicians are ready to support you and your family!

Until next week, Be Wise!

Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash


Over the holidays, we had lot of emotions at our house, and I bet you did too. I want to give you a resource this month to help manage your family’s emotions better in the year ahead. The first resource is a strategy called – EMOTION COACHING. 

EMOTION COACHING is a strategy that uses a set of skills designed to help kids and teens develop and practice emotional regulation – the ability to hold it together or recover when feelings get big. 

Littles with emotional regulation issues might throw toys and throw tantrums. Middles will slam doors, tell you they hate you and possibly self-injure or restrict eating. And Bigs with emotional regulation issues might shut down and isolate, bury themselves in electronics or turn to substance use to cope with stress, pain, anger or loss.

Photo by Anna Kolosyuk on Unsplash


One model of EMOTION COACHING is a great framework for day-to-day interactions in your family (and can even be effective with your spouse, or at work). Here are the 3 STEPS:


Step one is about validating (acknowledging) your person’s feelings. We use language to transform by changing “BUT” to “BECAUSE”. For example, when your Middle tells you she doesn’t get included in social events and doesn’t have any friends, a typical response like, “It might feel like that now but you will make friends if you keep trying.” 

An EMOTION COACHING response would sound like, “It feels like that now because it seems like everyone is having fun without you.”

It can take a while to get this skill down, so just start practicing this BECAUSE phrasing and then stay quiet. See what happens AND don’t say “BUT”! 


After acknowledging the feeling, then it is necessary to meet the need of that emotion. Every emotion has a specific emotional need. If someone is feeling angry, they might need help communicating what they need (e.g., space, or to feel heard). If someone feels anxious, they might need reassurance or help doing some calming breathing. But providing reassurance without first validating a feeling can be like kissing someone in the dark – you HOPE it is the right person but you are not completely sure!

So you might say, “It feels like that now because it seems like everyone is having fun without you. I love you. Would it help to have a hug?”


Finally, it is time for problem solving, but don’t rush to this step if things aren’t going as smoothly as the above example. If you get resistance, go back to STEP ONE and keep working on the validating. Maybe you got it wrong, or maybe there is more of the story to hear. Don’t be discouraged. This is a new style of communicating for your family, and it can take practice.

Let us know how it goes, and talk to your child’s therapist – or your own – for more tips and help. 

BECAUSE – Be Wise!







We wanted to end this year with some great ideas to lessen the stress that can occur with the holiday season.

The Wise Family is lucky to be located near the many fantastic school districts, cities, and counties of Northern VA. This location allows us access information and resources that we can share with all of you!

This month, we are excited to connect you to The Fairfax Early Childhood Partnership’s 5-4-3-2-1 Tips.  The Fairfax Early Childhood Partnership is a collaborative effort among Fairfax County Public Schools, Fairfax County, and neighboring early childhood providers with the goal of advocating for quality early childhood experiences, diverse opportunities, and a strong network of support for the community, children, families, and educators.

This month’s tips, Surviving the Holidays with Preschoolers, contains great ideas for less stress during the holiday season. You can view them by clicking the image below!

Wishing you and yours a very Happy Holiday!

November 20, 2019 By Jess Feldman

From planning ahead to proper communication techniques, here’s how to ensure your children enjoy the holidays with the new family dynamic.


Image by Ирина Безмен from Pixabay 

While the holidays are full of joy, they also tend to evoke stress.

From family members flying in from across the country to decorating the tree, there’s a lot to think about. And for divorced individuals with youngsters to care for, that stress can skyrocket as you try to maintain a sense of normalcy for both you, your former partner and, most importantly, your kids.

“During the holidays, everyone has this picture-perfect way they want it to go, which becomes more difficult when a family is divorced because you have to split that time in a way you never had before,” says Sheri Mitschelen, owner and clinical director of Crossroads Family Counseling Center in Fairfax. “It’s not picture-perfect anymore, and having to navigate that with an ex-spouse—who you maybe don’t want to spend time with—that makes it more difficult.”

While challenging, it’s not impossible. Here, Mitschelen, as well as Amy F. Parks, Ph.D., LPC, owner and clinical director of The Wise Family Counseling and Assessment in Alexandria and Arlington, share tips for giving your children the best of the holidays, no matter the circumstance.

Develop a plan

In any family, finding a routine that works is essential to successfully completing day-to-day tasks. And come the holiday season, planning and preparation are more important than ever, especially for children who are going to experience two separate celebrations instead of one.

“Coming up with a plan that the parents both agree upon and then letting the children know exactly what that is, is key,” says Mitschelen. “Children do better emotionally when they know what to expect.”

To make it even clearer, according to Parks, keeping a calendar in both homes so that kids know when they have time with each parent is extremely beneficial, especially when it’s time for holiday parties, family dinners and annual celebrations.

For more family and holiday content, subscribe to our newsletters or check out our Holiday Headquarters

Evoke positivity

Once a clear plan is set in place, whether that means the kids spend Thanksgiving with you and New Year’s Eve with your ex-partner or vice versa, it’s important to portray a positive attitude on the entire situation.

“Although a divorce can be acrimonious, it doesn’t have to be that way around the kids,” says Parks.

In fact, adds Mitschelen, parents should avoid revealing the emotion of the situation in front of the kids entirely, and rather treat it as they would a business-style relationship.

“A lot of times when parents divorce, they physically divorce but they don’t emotionally,” explains Mitschelen. “When kids pick up on emotional tension, they feel torn or guilty spending time with one or the other. If the parents can act as if it was a work colleague, the whole thing becomes more civil and easier to manage.”

Plus, when your kids go to your ex-spouse’s home for the holidays, encouraging them to have fun and really enjoy their time is key, according to both Parks and Mitschelen.

“When they do come home, don’t interrogate them,” says Mitschelen. “Let them freely share what it was like and what happened. You can ask open-ended questions, but let it be natural as if your kid was just coming back from a play date.”

Embrace tradition

When young kids and teens alike think of the holiday season, family traditions tend to be one of the first things to come to mind. Yet when a divorce happens, those traditions sometimes get diminished or forgotten.

“Keeping some old traditions, like opening one present before Christmas Day or whatever it might be, is definitely a good idea,” says Mitschelen. “But also creating new ones so the routine seems more normal is important too.”

According to Mitschelen, traditions are a form of predictability for kids, something that’s unique to their specific family and provide a sense of closeness that they know nobody else has. When it comes time to celebrate the season in a new family dynamic, Mitschelen suggests both partners create at least one new tradition to do with the kids on their own.

Remember what it’s all about

“Divorced parents need to remember one vitally important thing: At one point in time, they decided to bring a tiny human into the world,” says Parks. “That tiny human is innocent in the divorced-parent scenario and the grown-ups in this child’s life have the power to encourage emotional resilience and well-being or to minimize it.”

Throughout the holiday season, according to Mitschelen, parents really need to focus on making it all about spending time with one another, even though it may look different than years past.

“Taking the negative emotion and shining positive light on each situation is essential, that’s what children really want,” says Mitschelen. “They just want to spend time with their parents. If the parent can be emotionally and physically present, that’s a gift for the children.”


The original Northern Virginia Magazine article can be accessed here

Until next week, Be Wise!


The The Big Life Journal Gratitude Challenge continues this week! 

Part two includes exercises like creating a gratitude list, giving thanks, mini-thank yous and acknowledging things about yourself that you are grateful for. (Click the below image to access Days 4-7 and download your .PDF!)


How did the first half of the challenge go? Gratitude is a powerful force – it is even scientifically proven to have great benefits for your overall well-being.

According to Psychology Today, showing gratitude can:
Open the door to more relationships
Improve physical health
Improve psychological health
Enhance empathy and reduce aggression 
Improve sleep quality
Improve self-esteem
Increase your mental strength
Unleash the power of gratitude this holiday season!

Until next week, Be Wise!

This month we are focusing on GRATITUDE during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season!

We are excited to share a 7-day Gratitude Challenge from The Big Life Journal. It’s more fun to complete this challenge with a Challenge Buddy and work through the activities together. When you both complete the challenge, make special plans to celebrate your Gratitude Challenge goals together!

This is a great activity to do with a friend or as a family. For this week, we are sharing the first 3 days to get you started. Stay tuned for the 2nd half of the Gratitude Challenge next week!

Here are days 1 – 3. Click the below image to download as a .PDF. 

Until next week, Be Wise!

By guest contributor, Andrea D. Kessler

It was the night before my son’s baptism in July.  Furniture was pushed to one side of the room, as the newly shampooed carpet dried overnight. He and I were up once again, for the middle of the night feeding, even though he was almost 6 months old. In June we traveled from South Korea back to Washington, D.C. Before he joined us, he had been sleeping through the night, then regressed when we turned his life upside down. It was completely understandable-new language, new smells, new tastes, new sounds, new time clock, new sleep routine. In the beginning, it wasn’t just jet lag, his time schedule was flipped with a 13-hour time difference accompanying a sleepless 13-hour direct flight.  Since then, we had settled into a routine, but nights were still tough. The smiles he shared in the morning comforted us, reassuring he wasn’t always miserable.

During that bottle feeding that night, my mind went from his current struggles to future challenges-questions around rejection, loss and self-doubt which professionally, I felt were sure to come in the years ahead. I wanted to reassure him of the love that brought him to our family, the love that was present from his beginning, held him every step of his journey to us, and would continue through our relatives and friends. I wanted to bolster him, shield him and love him enough and protect him from this pain, but I feared I could not. It wouldn’t stop me from trying.

Even as he grew and our love surrounded him, he developed his own narrative to explain his story to himself. When he chose to share his insights, we learned of the reasoning he imagined, to explain why his birth father had left his birth mother and why she had placed him for adoption. We had limited details surrounding the circumstances of the adoption and had struggled to know when and how to share them. Each time he shared ‘his story,’ we shared the details we knew and he modified his understanding with the new information.

Our children who are adopted have the right to understand their individual story, however detailed or limited our knowledge. Decisions around putting up a child for adoption are steeped in tough concepts, many too advanced for young minds. Factors of open/closed, domestic/international, foster/institutional care and circumstances around conception further individualize each case. Even so, telling our child his story, in developmentally appropriate terms, and retelling it with a frequency that allows him to internalize it accurately at each stage of his childhood and into adulthood, is critical for his healthy well-being. Also, just as vital is our acceptance of ANY emotional response to the parts of the story our child experiences, expressed either overtly or indirectly; confusion, sadness, relief, anger, or indifference-just to name a few.  Relying on the support of professional counselors with experience in the challenges of adoption is an essential tool/resource. No matter how close we are to our child, he may be guarded about sharing his evolving feelings related to his story, not wanting to hurt us. Additionally, understanding this is not a ‘one and done’ conversation, will be a helpful mindset on this journey.

Parenting is hard and we don’t have to manage it alone. You may not have an adopted child. Your child may be struggling in some other way.  Skilled counselors can help families navigate challenges and related feelings, then facilitate communication among family members.  When we tackle the difficulties of parenting with the support of mental health professionals, we model it is okay to not be perfect and ask for help and it can reduce the stigma related to mental health support for the next generation.


Author bio: Andrea D. Kessler is the mother of three children, ages 23, 18 and 15.  Their family came to be through birth and adoption. She and her husband continue to work through adoption related concerns with their college-aged son.  She is an elementary school counselor and her parenting experiences regularly support her in her work with children and families. 

Until next week, Be Wise!