Lost and Found in The Time of Pandemic: Children, Grief and Loss, and Skills
Children do experience loss and they do grieve.
They are not typically forthcoming about loss and grief in the same way as an adult. This is because they are kids, because they often don’t know how to express what they feel, and because they don’t want to bother adults or parents. Children are highly perceptive. From their angle of viewing, they see adults as having plenty going on to begin with. They may have also learned to not share thoughts or that people don’t have time.
If you are interested in leaning into the private world of a child how do you begin?
- First think about who the child is. Your son or daughter, the child of a friend, your grandchild, niece, or nephew? The first step involves an honest inventory regarding your relationship with this child. As part of the inventory think about any issues pre-existing with the child. Can you move into an emotionally responsive role with this child and do no harm? If your answer is yes, then move to the next step.
- Step two involves making a mental or written list as to what you feel this child’s losses have been. This isn’t about what the child has said but what you, as an adult, have witnessed with the advent of the COVID-19.
- Was the child out of school?
- Did the child have a Zoom Classroom? Did they attend?
- Did the child do their homework and finish out the school year?
- Did the parents of the child lose their job?
- Are there financial problems at home? Substance use or abuse? Domestic Violence? Is this a single-parent household?
- Are there mental health concerns in the family? Does any family member have an existing mental health challenge? Are they getting help?
- Is the child in self-quarantine? Was he or she?
- Did anyone close to the child contract the COVID-19?
- Anything else unique about this child’s circumstances? Does the child have an illness or existing health condition? Does anyone in the family?
- The third step is to create a sense of calm in yourself. Step two is about availing yourself of information ahead of time. You are not going to use this at this time. It is much like knowing the entire history of someone and waiting for a moment to use what you know for the purpose of assisting and guiding.
- Step four is about listening. It is also about creating the space with a child for the child to simply be with you. This can be accomplished in many ways. You can take a walk with the child, bake a cake, water the plants outside, or do some cleanup in the garage. You can watch a movie together and after the movie simply sit together and maybe have a bowl of fruit or ice cream. When we listen, it is important to suspend judgment. I have noticed people seem to think certain communications are more important than other communications. They may also think a person will go right to what is bothering them. Even adults don’t do this. It is highly unlikely most children will either. People, even child people, give us clues as to what’s on their mind. A child might say, “Why are people so mean?” What would you say in response? Would you respond? I might say, “What’s on your mind right now?” In this way I allow movement to go a bit deeper. Something caused the child to say that. Or, if the child says, “I hate spiders!” What would you say? Would you say anything? I might say, “What do spiders make you think of?” It is in this way that I ask to continue the conversation. Invite the child to talk more and before you know it the child may share some pretty interesting stuff you never imagined was there.
- Step five is about suspending judgment. Thoughts and feelings are just thoughts and feelings. They are neither right nor wrong, good or bad. They are temporary positions we hold as we think more and feel more and eventually take to action what we have decided. And the cycle repeats itself over and over. We are always redesigning our thoughts and feelings. Hopefully we are able to allow for growth and change in ourselves and others around us.
Have a wonderful week. Stay safe. Be well. And remember you were once a child too. How is your grief and loss doing with the pandemic and all the storms that have gathered in our world?
My best to you!
Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, PhD