The loss important to understand this year, the most critical loss, is not learning loss. It involves the loss many children are facing after losing a mom or dad to Covid-19. Or it could be a grandma or grandpa, a beloved aunt or uncle, or sister or brother, even a friend.
On this Mother’s Day, how many children are grieving the loss of their mother? On Father’s Day, how many will be missing their dad?
We’re told that between 37,000 and 43,000 children in the United States have lost at least one parent to COVID-19. According to the University of Southern California, this is a 20% increase in parental loss over a typical year.
A loss will affect how students look at school, how they take tests, and how they recapture a sense of normalcy as school buildings reopen and they gather once again in person if they are not already in the school building. School and life for them will never be the same.
Parental loss due to Covid-19 has been found more in the black community. Children are called Covid Orphans.
Children may be troubled simply due to the fear and anguish caused by the strangeness involving Covid-19 and living through a pandemic. All students need varying levels of support at this critical time.
Whether children have returned to a school building or are still learning remotely, a school’s staff can help assist those suffering from grief and trauma.
Teachers, counselors, and school psychologists are on the frontlines, knowing when a child has lost a loved one and helping them cope or directing them to those who will best support the child and family.
A close-knit school community can be the best outside support a child might know.
April 5, 2021, the Journal of the American Medical Association states:
Sudden parental death, such as that occurring owing to COVID-19, can be particularly traumatizing for children and leave families ill-prepared to navigate its consequences. Moreover, COVID-19 losses are occurring at a time of social isolation, institutional strain, and economic hardship, potentially leaving bereaved children without the supports they need.
Sweeping national reforms are needed to address the health, educational, and economic fallout affecting children. Parentally bereaved children will also need targeted support to help with grief, particularly during this period of heightened social isolation.
Here’s a description of the possible impacts on children and adolescents from Massachusetts General Hospital.
Younger children may regress and become clingy and demanding, often fearing separation. They may have physical complaints such as headaches and stomachaches. Younger kids often cannot appreciate differences between cause and effect, or reality and fantasy. One consequence of this is the potential to blame themselves for the death. They may be told that a “virus” was the cause of death but may still feel they did something to cause it. This feeling may be reinforced if they hear in the news how the disease is spread from person to person.
Adolescents — who are more mature in their thoughts and emotions — may not blame themselves but instead feel tremendous guilt for things they said or did to the relative who is now gone. They may feel distant from the promise of what their future holds. Their experience of the loss may interfere in this important developmental period of building autonomy and independence from family. In light of these factors, teens may become more irritable, argumentative or withdrawn.
It doesn’t matter how many resources are made available; finding ways to assist children and teens who’ve experienced loss is difficult. But here are some ways schools might help.
Creative Arts. The arts help children communicate. Students might find safety in communicating during the grieving process through artistic self-expression. Art helps children feel a sense of control and allows them to express thoughts on abstract ideas.
Schools that have failed to consistently give children the opportunity to do art with a real art teacher should bring the arts back. Every school should have a curriculum that includes a well-funded art program. Students always benefit from art classes, but if a school places little emphasis on the arts, they will deny students much, especially during this difficult time.
Make sure every child experiencing loss gets ample opportunity to work on arts and crafts. A good art teacher will have a variety of projects to choose from. If you’re a parent, there are many online art projects.
Counselors and School Psychologists
Some schools had shortages of counselors and school psychologists before the pandemic. Those vacancies should be filled, and school districts should add more support staff in these important support areas so that a child’s emotional needs are met with assistance from trained professionals.
Music. Children at every age might appreciate listening to music or playing a musical instrument while grieving. Focusing on learning to play a new instrument might be helpful if the child is interested and willing. One is never too old to learn to play an instrument they care about.
Schools might want to invest in some recorders for children to learn about an instrument and teach and provide information about the instruments students could care about.
Here’s a list of movies that might be helpful. There are some conditions important to understand, so read descriptions carefully. Mary Poppins Returns is also a film that sensitively addresses children and death.
Schools should have a well-stocked library that provides books on a variety of subjects. Bibliotherapy involves literature to help children cope with loss, life changes, or mental illness. Well-prepared librarians and teachers will understand which books might help.
Many fine books exist at every age level addressing the subject of loss.
Allina Health and Books for Grieving Children is a website that breaks many books down to who the child might have lost, parent, sibling, grandparent, friend, even pets, and indicates age appropriateness.
The loss children have experienced this past year might be sadly highlighted on Mother’s Day or any special day or time. Schools and especially teachers can bring back a sense of normality and help children know that they are loved and cared for with renewed hope to face their futures.
A study by BMC Palliative Care looked at the way grief is presented and issues to consider.
Helping Children Process Grief & Loss During COVID-19 | NYU Langone News Resources at the bottom.