But let's first start with you.
Are you lacking in energy, depleted and exhausted and fed with COVID-19?
Are you getting moments of rage where you want to petition about the rate the vaccines are getting out or the prospect of your child’s education?
Do you want to escape from it all, off into the country or sink into your bed or even not take the rules seriously – exclaiming “they are not for me”.
Right there we have DEPRESSION, ANGER, and DENIAL
Add to those BARGAINING and ACCEPTANCE and you have the full set of the 5 Stages of Grief as set out by Kubler-Ross.
If you have attended any of my training online or face to face you will know I always start by talking about your LOSSES. Grief isn’t just reserved for death it includes loss and change. As a whole community we are collectively grieving so many losses to do with COVID-19 and our children are grieving too.
They don’t go to their regular clubs, they don’t see friends in the way they used to, no parties, school has changed even for those that go to school – it is different. They haven’t seen family for a year now. My children (aged 6 & 8) are just desperate to have their friends around to play-something that used to be so simple.
I have started to think about their behaviour or troubles in terms of a reaction to grief in the hope that I can be more tolerant, understanding, and helpful.
To help you understand this further am going to give you an example using anger.
School closed early last week due to snow and I went to pick the kids up armed with snow boots and waterproofs and news that we were going to go to the park and play. For a moment I believed I was the best parent ever.
Not so-it turns out!
The 6-year-old screeched like a broken donkey all the way home. Apparently, she did not want to wear waterproofs. It was ridiculous, her behaviour did not match the event.
I reflected what she said,
“I can hear you are really angry that you have been made to wear uncomfortable clothing.”
The screeching continued so I tried to appeal to her better nature. (You know those moments when you genuinely believe your 6 your old has the emotional intelligence of an adult and can be reasoned with).
“I know you are angry with me and I am sorry, I would like to explain that my heart was coming from a good place. I thought it would be fun and that you would be happy. I know you are mad but I thought you would be happy.”
On reflection and considering the Stages of Grief, she was probably grieving. She was at school, she got called out of school to go home. She is in a constant state of change, her world is changing all the time and she has NO control. I can imagine her internal dialogue:
“I’m just about holding my sh#t together by not knowing if I am going to school each day and now midday the fu##ers pull me out of school and make me wear those ba#t#rd trousers.”
(okay so maybe I have morphed my 6-year-old into a 40 something year old mother of two trying struggle to juggle everything but you get the message…and I hope a little laugh!!)
Just this morning she asked me if she was going to school. Because in the last 2 weeks I have said I don’t know more than I have said yes.
Her grief was angry today, but now I can see where her grief is sad as well.
My adult clients don’t come to therapy and talk about being angry because their loved one has died. They talk about their road rage or a dispute with a close friend.
Why should our children be any different?
Looking at my children as examples their feelings aren’t restricted to the stages of grief, but I think their feelings are grief reactions:
Uncertain about lots of things and need reassurance,
Easily feeling unsafe.
Wanting to know what is happening next.
hat is for breakfast, lunch, tea, snack-tomorrow and next week (give me strength!!).
There’s a lot more low-level panic, which I can see now. They will ask a question but not listen to the answer as they are still over thinking or panicking so they ask again.
Trying to gain some control in any area they can find whether it be food, homework, and behaviour.
We were walking the other day and I’d told my 8 year old we were not going to talk about Minecraft anymore during this walk (my head was actually going to explode!). Towards the end of the walk, he asked if he could go on Minecraft when he got home. I agreed to a small amount of time to which he replied.
“Thank goodness for that. I was feeling so worried because I didn’t know what was going to happen when we got home. I really like having a plan and being organised.”
Bless his heart. He certainly has some of my DNA in him. But some of this is COVID-19 too. From one day to the next he doesn’t know what is happening and how his life will change.
So here are some things you could consider doing to help your COVID grieving child:
First and foremost, recognise big emotional ‘overactions’ as a possible grieving reaction.
Respond as you do with any big emotions. Reflect what you are hearing, don’t try to justify or explain, just hear it.
Lots of comfort and reassurance
Give clear instructions about the things you do know, and this will be different for each family. If you are home-schooling you could create a timetable which includes what they are doing (reading) and where (their rooms) for example. This level of detail really helps my children.
Do a weekly food menu and lay out snacks in the morning.
If there are any days, you are not sure about what is happening then put a sticker on it and talk about the unknown. Handling uncertainty is a life skill but it’s something we can teach and support our children with.
If you are going through a particularly bad patch lower your expectations of yourself and your kids. Probably do that anyway.
Self-care for you and your family. Grieving is really draining so be kind to yourself.
The one certain thing I know about grief is that it can’t be fixed, it’s a process that has to be gone through. So although we can help ease the symptoms our role as parents is to help our children navigate through their grief journey. And until things return to a new normal or they have some reassurance of consistency then this process is going to be on going for a while.
One thing I used to always say when I worked for a Children’s’ Bereavement project was,
“If your child is grieving then so are you.”
This is no different, you are grieving too. COVID-19 is having a massive impact on your life as well. So show yourself the same kindness and compassion as you show your children.
Have HOPE that we will get through this and in the meantime know that you are what your child needs.
Hope this helps
Love Nicola x x
Need extra support? Email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and ask about my parent support sessions