Lisa recently had the opportunity to contribute
to an article written by The Guardian, which focused
on raising awareness about the mental health issues being faced by so many during this pandemic.
9 Suggestions for Helping Children and Teens to Cope with Grief
and Worry Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic
We can thrive when we feel safe, seen, heard and supported
that children and teens are experiencing a lot of loss now too. Suddenly young people found themselves sheltering
in at home, with their families 24/7, away from school, their routine and structure, friends, teachers, school counselors,
coaches, as well as grandparents and other relatives and other trusted adults. They can't participate on thier sport teams,
clubs and other extra curriculur activities, part time jobs. There is potential for the loss of future celebrations and accomplishments
such as a school play, orchestra or band performance, competing in another season of a sport, prom or graduation. They didn't
even get to say goodbye. They can't even go outside and play at a park, meet friends or ride their bikes freely. Some children
depend on school for food and clean water as well as the safety of connections to caring adults. There was no time for them
to anticipate their losses, it all happened abruptly. So they are grieving. And many families have lost a loved one to COVID-19
or are sick with the virus. Some are worried about a loved one who has underlying health issues and can be at greater risk
for complications. Many children have parents who are essential workers and worry about them getting sick or themselves contracting
it from a parent who has to work. And many young people are living with a parent or caregiver who is stressed, worried, or
acting differently. Many worry that something they do or did may cause a loved to get sick. Please let's not minimize their
feelings, compare losses or make them feel guilty for grieving their losses. Instead listen, understand and validate their
feelings. We never want to shame anyone for having or sharing their feelings. We want to thank them for trusting us enough
with sharing their honest feelings.
- Learn some typical signs of stress and grief in young people. Some of these may include
an inability to focus, sleep and appetite disturbances, irritability and fighting, not wanting to leave home even for a walk,
a drop in academic performance, forgetfulness, bouts of crying, etc. Pay attention to these signs, be understanding and ask
if the child can use some extra support. Show extra care, kindness and patience. Validate their feelings. Provide hope and
reassurance as well. Children truly appreciate parents and educators who show compassion and show they understand.
- Be honest. Tell
children the truth but while reassuring them, giving them hope and pointing out all the good that so many people around the
world are doing now to help. So many young people, families, groups, countries and companies are helping one another. We are
all in this together. Try to follow their lead in asking questions but know that some children won't ask directly yet will
show signs of anxiety or grief so you may want to initiate a conversation. Be supportive, create safety and try to be calm.
Take care of your own emotions as well.
- Model calm and model healthy coping strategies. Children look to adults to see how we
handle a crisis. When we display a calm demeanor, they can "catch our calm" as my dear friend Arlene, of Caring
Contact, likes to say. We can also show them things that we do that help us to cope such as journaling, talking to a trusted
friend who listens more than gives advice, exercise inside and outside, daily slow and steady breathing exercises, meditation
or yoga or mindfulness practice, reading, prayer, music, nature, checking on others, reaching out to help our community. Encourage
the child to create a self-care coping card listing healthy activities, people or words that inspire them.
- Encourage children to develop
a new schedule or routine. Since routine and schedules are things that can help restore a sense of calm and predictability,
increase a sense of control, it helps to work with a child to create new routines for themselves. Teachers can do this with
their online presence and parents can help by sharing with their children some of their own daily routine. This may include
a morning routine of waking up at the same time each day, showering, having a nutritious breakfast, making a gratitude list,
practice slow breathing, focusing on a word for the day such as peaceful or relaxing or productive, going for a walk to help
wake up, make or look at their daily list of things to get done.
- Limit exposure to the news. Children often take in more than
we realize and are paying attention more than we know. Please limit how much you listen to the news for yourself as well as
for children/teens. Too much focus on the panic, number of deaths and hospitalizations can be extremely frightening for all
of us but especially children. We need to limit the amount of news we listen to as well. Some children will tell a parent
that they don't want to hear it anymore, some will walk away, some will act out and some will simply shut down. Please be
mindful of your phone and zoom conversations with others while children are present. Some adults have started using the car
as a private space to talk about their own fears to a trusted friend or having virtual therapy sessions.
- Understand children are worried. Some
children show feelings and some don't. Some talk about their worries and some internalize them. Many young people share that
they worry about their older relatives getting sick. Many are afraid that they won't see thie friends again or go back to
normal anytime soon. Some will be more clingy, withdrawn, or cry. Some will isolate and internalize their fears. Children
need lots of love, time and attention now more than ever.
- Try to enjoy the extra time and moments together that you may not have
had previously. Ideas for connecting for everyone in the family: play music, charades, sing, play Simon Says, take family
walks, play hopscotch, camp out in the house with a tent or fort, dance, journal, make a collage, play some games together,
watch a fun or inspiring movie, do a zoom call with relatives, cook a dinner together,
- Strategies for calming oneself: practice
some mindfulness activity or try some yoga (so many apps offering free sessions), journaling or some use a brain dump (at
night keep a pad next to the bed and anything on one's mind they can write in the pad and turn the pad over). Minimize unhealthy
behaviors such as alcohol.
For Parents of Young Children:
This is a time unlike anything we have lived through. Families around the globe are being affected by daily changes
on so many levels due to this pandemic. Covid-19 has changed life as we knew it just a month or so ago. We are all living
a "new normal", one that no one signed up for. There has been so much loss for children: being at school, seeing
teachers and friends, sports, musicals, graduations, birthday parties, get togethers, sleep overs, family gatherings, playing
at a park, going to a store, being able to be visit neighbors, etc. There has been so much loss for adults as well: loss of
work and money, loss of connections, loss of sense of purpose, loss of a sense of stabilty for many, loss of time away from
children, loss of time alone, loss of abilty to go to the gym or go on a hike, loss of childrens' upcoming celebrations, and
then in addition, the grief involved in seeing friends, loved ones and co-workers getting anxious, scared, sick and sometimes
seriously ill. Some adults and children have even lost a loved one or a beloved teacher, neighbor, community member, coach,
or other important person in their life. This is a very difficult time for all of us.
few imporant things to keep in mind when parenting now. Children and teens look to adults for guidance, reassurance and stability
in the midst of a storm. They watch us and listen to us more than we know. They are noticing subtle and not so subtle things
in thieir parents and caregivers now. They notice the tone of our voice, our new obsession with the news, our inability to
focus, our crankiness, our fears we may talk about when on the phone with a friend, and more. We can't nor should we
hide our own anxiety completley however it is important that they see in us a role model.
want to stay calm, listen and offer reassurance. This isn't easy but it is important.
We want to be a role model for our children in coping with a stressful time. This can be a time that you all can
learn healthier coping skills together, like journaling, mindfulness, taking walks or helping out someone else.
Be aware of how you talk about COVID-19. Your discussion can increase or decrease a child's own fear. You want to
remind your children of all of the safety precaustions that you are doing within your power to keep you all safe and well.
Explain to them what Social Distancing means. Explain why they can't hang out with their friends and even many of
their relatives now. Explain that these guidelines have been put into place by the CDC (Centers for Disease Contol and Prevention).
This means staying away from others until the risk of contracting COVID-19 is under control. Explain to older children what
"flatten the curve" means. Be honest and say we don't know how long this will take.
family mindfulness or relaxed breathing. Deep breathing is an easy, free and excellent tool for calming the nervous system.
Do breathing exercises with your child. There are many apps including CALM and Insight Timer which are free and have breathing
exercises on them. Also YouTube has many breathing exercises for children and teens and adults too.
Focus on the positives. Talk about what good has come out of this time together inside. You can all share things
that have been unexpected positives, like more time to be together, more family dinners, less commuting time. Hopefully you
can find expra time to play games, do art together, sing, dance, be silly and watch movies, read books outloud and learn to
cook a new recipe. Show your child that its a great time to learn another language on DuoLingo, or learn a new art form,
or take up a hobby. It's a great time to call relatives and friends on Zoom, Facetime or on an old fashioned telephone.
Establish a daily routine. We need routines and structure to a degree. Children really need routines in times of
stress and challenge. Keeping a regular predictable routine helps provide a sense of calm, control and helps our overall wellbeing.
We can also teach children that everyone needs a little quiet time and we can respect each other's need for that. Some families
are making a "Do Not Disturb" sign for their door to let others know they need some quiet time.
Find some projects to help others. Some families are writing letters to neighbors to encourage them, letters to first
responders to thank them for their service, sending positive messages on social media. Young children are drawing nice
pictures to hang on their window to spread joy.
Offer lots of love and attention.
Parent Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope with Covid-19 (click the link to read Parent Guide to Helping Families)
10 Tips for Talking about COVID 19 With Your Kids (PBS)
Help your children to feel safe.
them facts that are developmentally appropriate and let them take the lead in the discussion.
them power of and responsibility.
Let them know what to expect.
empathy and empathy.
Keep your child's temperment and developmental stage in mind.
Try to maintain a normal routine.
Model the behavior you want to see.
Consider adjusting the screen time limits.
Take good care of yourself.
Talking to Kids About the Coronavirus: Child Mind Institute (click on the link for more resources for parents)
Grief Speaks is available to do Zoom meetings, conferences,
presentations as well as facilitate a process group for schools who have experienced a tagic and sudden loss of a staff or
faculty member, parent or student related to this pandemic. Can respond to the needs of a school, district or community almost
Hotlines, Warm Lines and Other Resources:
Peer Warm Line, NJ: 1-877-292-5588
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-888-222-2228
NJ Mental Health Cares: Emotional Support Hotline: 1-866-202-4357 (HELP)
Crisis Text Line: 741-741 Text "home" or "heart" 24/7
2nd Floor: Youth
Helpline, Crisis Line, Warm Line: 1-888-222-2228 www.2ndfloor.org
Caring Contact: Warm line and Crisis Line: 908-232-2880
Lockdown by Brother Richard: (this is a beautiful poem that I found on social media)
Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
there is panic buying.
Yes there is even
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their
neighbours in a new way
the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
how little control we really have.
what really matters.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul