8 Important Ways to Help Your Child Process Their Grief During this ‘Shelter in Home’ Season

Children grieve differently from each other and from adults.

It was news for me to discover there are over 43 losses that are considered grief. Your child will likely experience some of these with the loss of school structure, sports, friends, afterschool activities, proms, end of year activities and graduation. This sadness and uncertainty are compounded by hearing the frightening news reports on television and sensing their parents concern about job changes. Not to mention, the threat of catching the deadly Corona Virus or losing a family member to this pandemic. It’s overwhelming for adults to cope with all of these drastic changes we’ve never faced. Undoubtedly, it is magnified for our children who look to us for stability and comfort.

Here are some things to look for and ways to help your child as they work through their feelings of sadness and confusion:

1. Emotional Outbursts

Anger, crying, yelling at siblings, pets, inanimate objects, a roller coaster of emotional energy, punching things around them. Ask yourself if their anger is appropriate to the situation? Often children don’t know how to express or process their emotions and will attach their grief to some other event that is of minor importance and overreact. It’s a transference of emotions that are placed on something that is unrelated to their real pain.

2. Take time with them alone

Create a space to tell them that you are available to them. You are a safe place to fall. Let them know they can share their fears. It may seem obvious to you but they may need to hear this from your lips and your actions.

3. Give them words to use to express their emotions

Without appropriate words, we lack the tools to express our inner turmoil and as a result are left frustrated and disconnected. Your child may never have used these words to express their emotions before. Help them by giving them words that would be appropriate. Some examples would be: I feel sad, afraid, confused, lonely, mad, bored, I miss my friends, I need help from my teacher, I want to go back to how it used to be.

4. Isolation

Even though we are in close quarters, are they pulling away into themselves, hiding in their rooms, wearing headphones all day to keep others out. Do you see a sense of numbness about their emotions or a change in eating habits?

5. Difficulty processing information

Is concentration difficult with not just their homework but any instruction you give them to do. Do you see an inability to concentrate, disrupted sleeping patterns, or stomachaches? All of these are all signs of stress on children.

I’ve seen children without a diagnosed learning disability mimic the signs and characteristics of a child with a learning challenge because of the amount of stress they are trying to process.

6. Know your child’s love language

Reach out to them with their love language: Physical touching, words of encouragement, acts of service, time, or gifts. If you don’t know their love language ask them to rank these in order of their preference. Remember it may be different than yours and your other children. The 5 Love Languages, by Gary Chapman, 2015

7. Read a book on grief with them.

Help your child understand what is going on with them emotionally. Reassure them what they are feeling is normal.  

8. Create something together

Acknowledge this unique time. Make something together to document this unusual season that brought you together in a different way. Ask them what they want to create; a funny poem, rap song, a fun video of various family members, paint a bird house to remember being kept indoors, make jewelry to give as gifts, make soup for your neighbors, cut out hearts to place on your family and neighbors doors. Take pictures of your new routine and make a small book.

By Coach Sally Betters