Whether grieving the loss of a loved one or loss of routines during the COVID-19 pandemic, children and adults can benefit from ways to relieve stress.
The COVID-19 pandemic has closed schools and freed up children’s schedules a lot. While some youth relish the opportunities to sleep in and play at home, not all children feel the same.
Time in quarantine or remaining socially distanced gives children more time to think, be still, and sit with their big feelings—tasks that are especially challenging for children and adolescents grieving the loss of a loved one, a normal schedule, the school environment, extracurricular activities, or cancelled events.
Children grieving loss of a loved one
For children and adolescents grieving the loss of a loved one, existential questions like, “What happens after death?” are competing with thoughts about viruses and germs, or fears about their living family members and loved ones. Validate these concerns and model how you are taking care of yourself and staying healthy. Work together to practice handwashing, cook a nourishing meal, or take a walk outdoors.
Big feelings take up big space. Children should be invited to create a space that feels safe and comfortable enough for them to express their feelings as they come and go. Some ideas:
Add twinkle lights to a quiet space. Invite the child(ren) to think, talk, or write about their loved one.
Make a fort and watch a loved one’s favorite movie.
Use bedsheets and clothespins to create “walls” for private nooks or corners
Enhance the environment with plants or greenery, which make it easier to breathe. If you don’t have plants, create paper versions with construction paper or recycled homework.
Coping with loss of routines
For those grieving the loss of daily routines, predictability, or even celebratory milestones, offer structure at home that is maintainable and appropriate. Find creative ways to acknowledge upcoming events that were cancelled, such as technological “get-togethers,” special meals, or a family game night.
Ultimately, in a time of the unknown, it’s even more important for children to feel a sense of control. It’s okay to make exceptions to the limits set at home, especially if doing so brings about laughter and conversations. By activating their minds, tapping into their curiosity, and cultivating a playful environment, children can teach us how to make even the scariest times just a bit more bearable.
Promoting movement, self-expression
Here are some ways to make home-life more interactive by promoting movement and self-expression (can apply to all children, whether they’ve lost a loved one or not):
Put mattresses on the floor and create an indoor trampoline park. Movement can help carry along hard conversations.
Make up new dance routines set to favorite songs.
Build towers with canned goods and/or toilet paper!
Follow along with online yoga videos for all ages.
Allow children to play leader in “Simon Says,” which gives them the chance to be in control and to make choices.
Make an in-home scavenger hunt. Give children the control of choosing what items to hide.
Create poetry with word magnets from the refrigerator. Cutting words and phrases out of newspapers, magazines, and other common household items work just as well. Make a game of who can find the most words in a certain time period, or who can find the word with the most letters.
Turn an existing book into an art journal by drawing and coloring over pages of text, gluing elements into the book, ripping pages out, etc. If you don’t want to alter a book, use a notebook.
Paint or draw a mural on an old bedsheet.
Play Pictionary with shaving cream on a flat surface like a table or mess-free in the bathtub.
Got extra lipstick? Write or draw with lipstick on mirrors. The novelty of the activity will excite children, and cleanup is super easy!
Adults, this list can be applicable to you, too, and help relieve any stress built up from working from home or transitioning toward a “new normal.” While supporting your child(ren) during this time of uncertainty, it is also important to take some time for yourself, even if it’s for a couple minutes, a few times a day. Try journaling, meditation/yoga, binge watching movies/TV shows, Skype/Facetime/Zoom play dates or lunch dates, exercising, and listening to music for self-care.
COVID-19 coping resources
Here are some websites that you may find helpful in talking with your children about the coronavirus, taking care of yourself and planning activities for kids.
https://www.childlifepodcast.com/2020/03/12/35-talking-to-kids-about-the-coronavirus/ - Offers age-appropriate language to use and general considerations for talking with your children about the coronavirus.
https://whatsyourgrief.com/mental-health-and-coronavirus/ - Suggestions for adults to support their mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
https://joythroughchaos.com/covid-19-social-distancing-with-kids-free-and-low-cost-resources-and-activities-for-families/ - Many free and low-cost activities to help children keep their minds active and bodies moving while social distancing.
https://childrengrieve.org/about-us/news/208-covid-19 - The National Alliance for Grieving Children (NAGC) has released the booklet, “Responding to Change and Loss,” which encourages children to express their emotions and feelings of grief and the loss of normalcy. The NAGCS also has a wide range of resources to support a child who is grieving: https://childrengrieve.org/.
Care Dimensions has a team of child life specialists who can help you with ideas on how to support your child during this unique time. Contact ChildLife@CareDimensions.org.