How to Support a Grieving Child During a Year That Makes No Sense

We’re all trying to figure out life as we move through COVID-19. That includes kids living with loss.

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1 in 5 children will experience the death of someone close before they turn 18

We live in a society where holidays are spent connecting with family and friends and sharing stories while enjoying a home-cooked meal. That means they are incredibly tough for grieving children and families. And of course, this year, we’re approaching the season in the throes of a global pandemic. 

This is not easy. Allow yourself to acknowledge the changes as they come. If you are a parent of a grieving child, help them express the changes they are feeling. Help prepare them for changes they may experience over the holidays. Just as we all grieve differently, preparation may look different as well. You may have a child that wants to verbalize their thoughts and feelings, while another child feels more comfortable exploring their changes through art. Encouraging expression in all forms helps us to connect and support the uniqueness of each child. 

Whether you’ve heard it before, hear this now: It’s okay to be sad, it is okay to upset, it is okay to have a bad day, it is okay to smile, it is okay to laugh. We are all living through COVID-19 and trying to figure this out as we move through each day. Just like grief, there is no handbook for this. Trust that you are doing the best that you can do each day. Here are some tips:

Talk about it. It is important to provide an outlet for students to share their thoughts and feelings with a trusted adult. Set aside time daily to “talk it out” on whatever topic your kid picks. Share your own feelings and let them know you’re feeling scared and sad as well. Sometimes, that means taking a break. 

Breathe. Remember to take a moment to breathe. We teach our children this skill when life seems really hard – while solving a tough math problem, reacting to adversity on the playing field or responding to the multitude of daily social interactions that can cause stress. While we’re distance learning, working from home and stuck inside together, it’s more important than ever to stop, breathe and then react.

Get creative. Think of ways to stay connected to family and friends. We’re missing our coworkers and our kids are missing their teachers and friends.To reduce feelings of isolation, you can use technology to help them keep up important relationships with their friends and our families. Or go old-school and write letters or create colorful cards to send virtually (take a photo and text or email it to them).

Celebrate it. Many students are missing important milestones. Don’t let these events go by unnoticed. Celebrate them together and add friends and family virtually. It’s important to take time to honor achievements and celebrate the big and small things that bring us joy.

Focus on wellness. It’s more important than ever to take time for healthy activities, from nap time to outside time and sports to music. Remember how essential enrichment activities are for developing minds and bodies. Try to stick to a good sleep schedule and throw in routines like a nightly dance party.

Disconnect. We’ve all seen an increase in screen time but try to get those to put down their devices and step away from the screen to give their brains a break and their eyes a rest. Disconnect together with family game nights or by reading a book out loud.

Keep a schedule. Create a schedule together, give plenty of time for activity breaks and don’t be afraid to update it as you go along. A schedule gives a sense of security, teaches patience and helps you conquer life day by day.

As we approach the holidays, remember to allow yourself some grace, be patient with yourself, and enjoy the moments together. 

Brianne “Brie” Overton is the Chief Clinical Officer at Experience Camps, a national nonprofit that provides no-fee, clinically informed programs for kids who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling or primary caregiver – as well as resources and advocacy so all grieving children can live a life rich with possibility. Learn more about ExCamp’s Talk About Grief campaign here.

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