A Child's View: How to Help Grieving Children and Adolescents Through the Pandemic
CATEGORY: Grief and Loss
BY: Lindsey Neag, MSSA, LSW, LSSW
PUBLICATION: About Grief
The COVID-19 pandemic is a unique time in our community and country. Our way of life has been completely uprooted. As we try to find our new normal, it is important to understand how the pandemic affects children and adolescents, specifically the losses that they are experiencing. Many associate grief with the death of a loved one, but we can also grieve significant non-death losses.
One major loss is a sense of normalcy. As the school year begins, our children may have had expectations about returning to school, seeing friends and returning to their normal “pre-COVID” activities. While some of these may be possible, some may not. Or, they may look and feel very different than they did before due to new rules and regulations. As our kids adjust to these changes, you can help by establishing a regular routine. This can include morning and bedtime hours, educational activities, outdoor play and exercise to foster a sense of control, predictability and wellbeing.
Children and teens are also experiencing the loss of their social lives and ability to see friends and other family members. Engaging in meaningful activities can help ease feelings of isolation. Take a walk in the park, bake together or make crafts. Use technology to stay connected with others.
Children have also lost their sense of safety. They may have questions like: Will I get COVID-19? Will my family get it? Will life ever be normal again? Listen to their concerns, correct misinformation and use age-appropriate language to ease fears. Provide reassurance. Explain that the risk of serious illness is low for children when infected, for example. Explain and demonstrate ways to decrease risk, such as washing hands and maintaining physical distancing. Avoid fear-based approaches such as, “If you don’t wash your hands, you will get sick.” Answer questions accurately, but without unnecessary detail.
Finally, some of our children may be unable to see a dying loved one, whether from COVID-19 or other causes. Due to social distancing requirements, many hospitals, long-term nursing homes and hospice facilities have limited the number of visitors. Families are forced to make the difficult decision of who can see their dying loved one. Acknowledge how painful and unfair that feels and encourage children to engage in activities at home that help them to feel connected to their person before they die. This can include sharing stories, eating the person’s favorite foods and connecting virtually with their loved one.
This is a difficult and uncertain time in our children’s lives, but support and comfort from trusted adults can make all the difference.