It looks like most schools in the United States won’t open as usual due to COVID-19. If they do, students won’t have the experience they are used to.
Students and teachers will most likely be wearing masks, having their temperatures checked, unable to play freely during recess, unable to eat in a group cafeteria setting or even be allowed to walk from class to class.
If school doesn’t reopen at all, kids will have to get used to not seeing their friends or teachers, a different morning routine and adjusting to a new way of learning, whether it’s online or being taught by a parent or a tutor in a learning pod.
Although it’s easy to understand intellectually why this is happening, grief isn’t an intellectual experience, it’s an emotional one.
Although school closures aren't what most people associate with grieve it most certainly is a grieving experience.
There are articles all over the internet talking about how resilient kids are and how they will adjust and bounce back. That may or may not be true, but we do know that children will have a greater chance of being resilient if they are allowed to feel their normal and natural feelings as they arise.
So what can you do to help your kids with their grief?
If your kids think you are hiding your feelings they will mimic your behavior.
If they see you intellectualizing your emotions, they will do the same.
If they see you being strong they will try to be strong too.
When your kids talk about missing school, their friends and teachers, or experiencing they were looking forward to, don't try to fix them with intellectual statements. Acknowledge what they say, “I know that’s disappointing isn’t it buddy?” Then stop talking and listen to their reply.
You can even tell the truth about yourself. If you’re disappointed or sad about school being closed, tell them. Telling the truth makes it safe for your kids to do the same. If you hide your feelings your kids can get confused because they are getting mixed signals between what they sense and see in your body language and what your words are saying.
While you can’t control what is happening with the school system you can help your children to be emotionally honest and to avoid the pitfalls of hiding their feelings.
Kids may be small, but they are smart. They look up to you and will follow your lead. Give them the best tools to work through their grief by allowing them to experience their normal and natural feelings. When you do, you will be helping them learn skills that they will need for the rest of their lives.
Looking for more resources on COVID-19 and grief? Here are some blogs you might like: