T.I.P.S. for Speaking to Young Children About Loss

Image of Jill Stribling
Jill Stribling

"Sadly, We Have Become Experts in LOSS!" - Jill Stribling

Kid Quarantine, Day 34...Ohhh the loss:

  • Our freedom and day-to-day "normal" life
  • A small/medium business or a job
  • Favorite suppliers or supporters have closed, many never to return
  • But the absolute WORST is the death of a relative/friend/colleague

If you are at the same spot as we are in Spain, human loss is now a little closer to everyone. Here in Madrid, there is not a family around us who has NOT heard of someone who has passed away during this pandemic, with no funeral in site. If you are in a country "not there yet" bookmark this blog post (and we hope you do NOT get "there").

Aside from illness and FEAR all around, this week, our community was hit and a few of our families were left without a very important person in their lives. Under normal circumstances, this is a horrible ordeal. Right now it must feel unbearable! Know that we are here if you need us, and especially NOW in times of uncertainty. It's our Civic Duty to give you access to our team in a time of need, such as now. WE have decided as a school/learning community to put our own selfishness aside and our team agrees that it's time to give MORE for children (hence our normal activities during Spring Break Virtual Camp, including the holidays on Thursday and Friday).Virtual Camp Quarantine was business as usual, where Olivia was able to meet and interact safely with other kids. English for Fun friends come together for 4.5 hours to create things, to play games and do S.T.E.A.M.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math, Music) experiments while parents had extra time to get organized.

At a family's request, we gave T.I.P.S. to help them have the "loss" conversation with their children while in quarantine. Our support may not be perfect, and others with more experience in dealing with children and loss will have better information to give (feel free to contact us and we will link your information to this post). But these resources (which we will translate in Spanish a.s.a.p.) could quickly support a family in need.

Jill's T.I.P.S. for Talking to Kids About Loss: LFF Posts 09 16-22 SEP

  1. Be Clear and Direct

  2. Children and Adults are Entitled to Their Feelings

  3. Use Gratitude and Generosity to Heal

How to tell our children about loss during these COVID-19 times

The way you word it with children depends on the experiences they have had with death before. You may have to go more or less into the concept of death. (i.e. If a child lost another other grandmother a few months ago, she/he may remember what it is). When you tell him/her, say it directly. Avoid expressions like “she is in a better place” because it can confuse children more and even scare them, especially right now when it is unsafe to go outside. A child will think, "This place must be AWFUL and why am I here and not in the 'Better Place'?" (which is super smart).

You can say something like:

“I have some sad news to tell you. Grandma died. When people die, their bodies stop working so we won’t be able to see her anymore”.

It seems harsh but it is actually the way they will understand it best. The main concept that children have a hard time grasping is the “permanency” of death. You can expand on this as much as you feel is needed. It depends on his/her reactions, if he/she has any questions, then you take it from there. This is exactly how we develop/teach an emergent curriculum, we let the children be our guide. It feels scary at first and since it is unpredictable, it brings out our FEARs. But let's look at the whole Coronavirus thing as a metaphor for how, even when we over-plan for everything, there are still somethings that we cannot ever PLAN for and we simply have to react.

Reactions will vary

It could be that he/she appears “uninterested” at first, and if so, don’t worry. Processing loss and grief is different for everyone. Kids are just like adults! Don't assume that there is an emotional problem based on his/her reaction or lack thereof (I promise, it does not make him/her a psychopath or a sociopath).

Children are entitled to their feelings! Repressing them causes problems in adulthood:"NO PASA NADA...Si PASA ALGO!"

HubSpot Video

Let them feel, even though this makes YOU uncomfortable. When we teach children to repress emotions, they always come out somewhere else.

Watch for self-BLAME and GUILT

Beware of any comments she/he may have regarding feeling responsible for what happened. Don’t address it directly if it doesn’t come up, but since at this age children really think that everything revolves around them, it would be common for him/her to insinuate that it was his/her fault because of something he/she did or even thought. If that happens, just reassure him/her that it was nothing he/she or anybody else did and nobody could have stopped it from happening. Stanford University has great resources on this subject.

IMPORTANT to Survive Quarantine: Routines & Stay Positive

ROUTINES make everyone feel safe so stick to them! Kids need to feel that there are some similarities to life before Coronavirus. RESPECT their need for habits and familiar faces of people and places that the trust. Stay connected to teachers and school!

Try to stick as close to a normal routine as much as possible.Virtual Preschool classroom allows children to see familiar faces daily. This is important for maintaining routines and trust in childhood.

This is not like summer vacation where we all let loose. Since the circumstances are already unpredictable and everyone is learning along the way, kids need something "NORMAL" in order to feel less FEAR. They already see a worried parent or care taker, they no longer go to their favorite place (school), and they are missing out on a grandparent or other close adult's physical touch. They need to feel like something is the same in order to get through this quarantine without permanent FEARs. Keeping a schedule and attending classes online, trying to show them the same faces, having a sense of the "old life" is SUPER important. If everything changes, psychosomatic symptoms can start to show up (we will follow up with this in our next post).

What are signs of stress in young children? Here are a few examples:

  • Wetting pants long after potty training
  • Tantrums and irritability
  • Sleeping patterns "off"
  • Dermatitis
  • Requests to sleep with parents or siblings

We want to try our best to avoid this because these are a sign of FEAR and worry in kids. Doing everything we can to give children an appearance of a "happy and normal life" will help them cope with the changes that we cannot control.

A positive attitude is the biggest challenge for everyone right now. Take your mind off of the uncontrollable by losing thought a little FUN.

This is the biggest Growth Area for most humans and these times can take us into old and FEARful habits.

It is ok to be scared and admit it but our outlook right now will teach our children how to handle times of crisis. If we do NOT think that their adulthood will be filled with challenges, we are foolish and we are doing kids a disservice. We prepare children for how they will cope during the tough moments. Everyone can survive when things are EASY!

Keep this in mind when we are feeling hopeless and in that very moment, change your thought (put a rubber band on your wrist and snap it if you need to). Remember, WE ARE NOT going to save the world right now and life is out of control for EVERYONE (this is a financial mess for the entire world so stop only thinking about yourself). We have to go with the flow! If we can spend the majority of our emotional roller coaster focusing on gratitude, HOPE and FUN, and try to do that for out kids throughout the day, the time in quarantine will pass a lot faster! The sooner we can all safely get back to saving our businesses/our families/our countries, the better. And that will feel sooner, rather than later, if we are occupied with "Project Try to Build Happy Kids".

Here are a few ideas:
  • Fridays from 18:00-19:00 we have a thematic party for families. This was a vacation party.Attend online community events and be the one to suggest that everyone dresses in themes (i.e. totally 80s, vacation party, olympic athlete competition, crazy hat day, country western night, etc.). It is so cool to see how creative our family and friends are and it is amazing what a person can do with all of those recycled potato bags! If you can attach the theme to music it gets even more FUN
  • Make a crazy video that you know will cheer someone up. You will see that the silliness cheers you up too. www.clipchamp.com is the one we use
    HubSpot Video
  • Empathy is important and if there were more of it in the world, we probably wouldn't be here right now! Let's use this time to do some good: Teaching Empathy in the Selfie Loving World
  • Create acts of kindness for the neighbors you are finally making eye contact with! WE look forward to communicating through claps with them at 8:00pm nightly (admit it, it's the highlight of your day too). You can prepare packages and deliver them (careful with germs), send an email thanking the opera singer for making you feel good nightly, suprise dj for the neighbors and encourage them to have a dance party with you. There is a great app to start building community in your zone. You never know how singing "happy birthday" to the 89 year old woman who lives alone across the way, will be the thing that keeps her happy one more day.
    HubSpot Video
HubSpot Video

A few last comments on children and loss...

THEY ARE just like us ADULTS but they are looking at us to guide them through these things.

Be prepared for random thoughts out loud

Expect a child to keep asking you every now and then what happened or when "grandma" will come back. Just be consistent in your answers. A child will not be questioning a deeper meaning of death, just really trying grasp what happened. 

It is OK to show your emotions and a child's capacity for CARE will help you heal as well

You don’t need to hide your feelings or pretend things are fine. If he sees you cry and he asks, you can say, "I’m feeling sad because I miss grandma. I could use a hug!"

Online therapy is OK but find a trusted and LICENSED person

No...healers are not going to SAVE you in the middle of this. Neither are LIFE COACHES or CONSULTANTS, and PARASITES will be everywhere right now looking for new prey. 

We have excellent resources and many experts on our staff to support you! If you are in need of someone to help you or your child deal with ALL of this, we will do our best. But if you need support at a more profound level, we have recommendations in both English and Spanish of therapists working online (for children and adults) and they are licensed/registered/secure.

Here is a great link with a few more T.I.P.S.: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/death.html

Literature is a great healing and teaching tool. Here are some recommendations of books you can read with kids.

Our hearts are with you all during this time!

We are truly sorry for your loss and we hope that this article is supportive to your family's needs. If we could take away your pain, we would, I promise.

In my opinion, the only thing that's going to get us through these times is Gratitude and GIVING, with whatever we have to give:

  • Money if possible but there are so many other ways
  • Treat that neighbor to a newspaper from the kiosk or a bottle of jam from the supermarket
  • Send a card to a hospital via email to motivate doctors
  • Send a nice text to a friend you haven't contacted in a while
  • Continued support for organization you believe in
  • Make a video to post for your favorite emergency worker
  • Medical Supplies or food donations to a hospital near you
  • Work extra time to build something for the company that employs you to say "thanks" (I promise, humans are not simple at work in the 21st century)
  • Mask and gloves if you are going outside and carry a bottle of disinfectant in your purse for surfaces

"What More Can Luli and Ana DO? They are full of ideas, thanks to the book, Happy Campers!

Now is the time to ask, "What more can I do?" and DO IT!

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