There is a heaviness in the air, in the news, and in our communities. Not wanting to add to the feeling of anguish, I set out to write a hopeful and inspirational article. However, given all the grief and loss associated with the Coronavirus crisis, it felt inauthentic not to continue that conversation—especially about grief and loss and its impact on resiliency.
May is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month, according to the Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health this month’s theme is Bringing Children’s Mental Health into Vision: Perfect Vision 20/20. What I would like us to focus on is there children and teens who might be grieving and dealing with feelings of loss. Some children have lost their routines, time with friends, learning environments, milestone events like graduations and proms, sports, competitions, club meetings, and other social events. Some children have also lost grandparents, parents, teachers, friends, or other loved ones. And because the virus is expected to circulate until there is a cure, children may experience even more loss. We need to assure our children that everything being done is for their safety and the safety of others. But we should also be honest with them (and ourselves) that there is a lot we can’t control and don’t know yet.
Dealing with and acknowledging grief and loss is uncomfortable. Many want to rush past what they perceive as negative feelings and focus on “getting back to normal” as quickly as possible. Some think resiliency is the ability to minimize pain. When it comes to children, it’s tempting to use phrases like ”they’ll get over it,” “children bounce back easily,” or “children aren’t affected by much.” But these things are not always true.
What mental health providers now know is that children and adolescents can be greatly affected by loss and trauma. Brain and heart healing happen only when we make room for and acknowledge feelings and emotions. Having feelings validated and acknowledged is an essential part of healing. Conversely, stuffing—not speaking about—and denying feelings has a strong correlation with future feelings of overwhelming distress that often manifest as mental health diagnoses or substance abuse challenges later in life. So, let me say this clearly: if we don’t make room for children to talk about how they feel, they will suffer silently and society will pay the price later. I implore families, groups, organizations, schools, and anyone who works with children and adolescents to create many, many opportunities for them to talk about their feelings, worries, and losses.
Talking about grief and loss is hard for anyone. Children may not know how to initiate these conversations. There is also a belief that if you bring up a topic you are planting seeds. This is fundamentally untrue.
Because these conversations are hard, here are few suggestions:
Start the conversation. Ask about what has been hard about this time. Maybe even sit down as a family or group and ask the children to make a list of what they miss and what has been lost. (Scheduling time to worry is extremely effective for managing anxiety.)
Create some rituals to symbolically bury and let go of what has been lost. You might have to do this more than once. A ritual could be something simple like a prayer or writing exercise, or it could be something bigger like a family art project, a service event, or memorializing what’s been lost. You could even start a college fund or an investment fund as a memorial.
Practice acknowledging what you do have and increase gratitude. This is not to negate the losses, but it is a way to reframe and see the bigger picture. This is not something to rush into. It can be hard. However, create space to recognize what’s left behind. Create appreciation for things big and small. Once you start to look for the positive, your brain will focus on it more quickly.
For more ideas, check out the following resources on grief and COVID-19:
● National Association for Grieving Children – https://childrengrieve.org/about-us/news/208-covid-19
● The National Center for Grieving Children and Families – https://www.dougy.org/docs/Grief_during_COVID-19.pdf
If you have questions need resources for yourself, children, employees – please reach out! Until next month stay well and do, be & live better! www.meridainkconsulting.com.