How to help children with pandemic anxiety? 6:29

. – My daughter’s questions started after a family friend became ill with covid-19.

“If people are sick, they can just give them medicine to get better, right?” Asked my daughter with the hopeful prospect of an 11-year-old boy. “Can you go to the hospital so that the doctors and nurses can help you?”

The questions arose from a positive update my husband gave about his friend from martial arts classes, John R. Cruz, a first aid worker receiving treatment at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey.

He is one of the lucky ones.

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Not everyone is so lucky. We have already exceeded 126,000 covid-19 related deaths in the United States and more than half a million deaths worldwide.

For adults these numbers are shocking. For children, they are unfathomable. Some cannot even conceptualize the notion of a single death.

It’s natural for parents to want to protect children from the feelings of worry and distress we experience during this pandemic, but decades of research emphasize that being honest with children is the best way to mitigate feelings of anxiety and confusion in uncertain times. .

Even young children are aware of changes in the emotional states of adults and will notice the absence of regular caregivers, including grandparents.

So how do we talk to children about death and the process of dying during the coronavirus crisis? These are difficult conversations, to be sure. Here are six guiding principles, with instructions and sample dialogs, to keep in mind.

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Assess what is age appropriate

While parents should always be honest about death, the information they disclose may differ in quantity and depth depending on your child’s development age.

How do you know where the position of your child? It is good practice to follow your children’s example and answer their questions without offering additional details that may overwhelm them. If you don’t know the answer, it’s okay to admit it.

Children ages 4-7 believe death is temporary and reversible, punctuated by the fact that their favorite cartoon characters may die and then return the next day for another episode.

Even after explaining that “all living things die” and “death is the end of life,” it is normal for young children to ask, “When is that person coming back?” You should be prepared to gently and calmly remind them that “once a body stops working, it cannot be fixed” and “once someone dies, that person cannot return.”

Older children mature from this “magical thinking” as they enter adolescence, questioning the meaning of death during adolescence, and often see themselves as invulnerable. They may want to talk to you about why someone died, and they need guidance on resources they can trust to get valid information about coronavirus and covid-19 related deaths.

Ask your children, regardless of age: “What have they heard about the coronavirus and how could someone get it? What do you know about what happens when someone gets sick? ” Explain to them the difference between the virus and the disease and explain who is most at risk of becoming seriously ill with covid-19.

Get ready

A conversation about death, especially when you are reporting the death of a close family member or friend, is especially difficult. You don’t want to miss the news without carefully considering your words. Take some time to put your thoughts in order and take a couple of deep breaths.

Ask yourself: Do I want another adult to support me while I break the news? Where in my house would it be best to discuss this with my child? Should my child have a special toy or comforting blanket with him or her when we have this conversation?

Although it is best to discuss what happened with your child before someone else tells them, taking a few minutes to calm down and be present is important to you and to them.

Explain what happened

If someone in your children’s world dies from covid-19, be sure to tell them honestly, kindly, clearly and simply. Experts agree that parents should avoid euphemisms such as “we went to sleep”, “we lost it” or “we went to a better place” to avoid confusion.

Instead, you could say; “Honey, do you remember that Grandpa got very sick and has been in the hospital for the past few weeks? His lungs stopped working and they couldn’t help him breathe. The nurses and doctors worked very hard to try to get Grandpa’s body back to health, but he couldn’t improve. We are very sad and sorry. Grandpa died today. “

Then pause and listen. You may need to repeat your words a second time, as distress can make it difficult for them to digest information.

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Leave room for the ups and downs of pain

In a time of suffering, it can be difficult to know what to say. Honesty about their own emotions gives children permission to be open about their own confusion, sadness, anger, and fear.

You can admit, “This is all very difficult to understand, isn’t it? I feel sad and cry because I miss Grandpa. “

Don’t be surprised if some of your child’s feelings come out at once, while others can show up days and weeks after the death of a loved one. He is prepared for the unexpected and understands that when children cry, they may be crying one minute and playing the next. This is normal.

“Grief is not a linear process,” said Joe Primo, chief executive of Good Grief, in an interview on my podcast “How to Talk to Kids About Anything.”

Good Grief is a New Jersey-based nonprofit organization that provides healthy coping skills to children who mourn the loss of a family member.

“Pain is like a roller coaster. It’s up, down, everywhere. For children and adults alike, each day is different. And as a grieving person, you have no idea how your day will unfold. ”

Answer your questions

Many children will ask for more information and want to know why their loved ones did not survive. Reiterate that your loved one had covid-19 and the medical team worked very hard, but the disease made the body unable to function anymore. You can tell your child about complications like asthma that made it hard to breathe even before the coronavirus.

It is also normal for your child to ask if you or other people in his life will get sick or die from covid-19, so keep in mind the precautions your family is taking to avoid the disease.

“We are doing everything we can to stay healthy. We are washing our hands with soap and water, keeping our house very clean and away from others to avoid contracting the virus, ”is something you could say.

“We also wear masks and gloves when we are in the store to buy food. And let’s not forget that we continue to eat nutritious food, exercise, and rest well to stay strong. ”

Find ways to commemorate and honor your loved ones

Since social distancing makes it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to cry alongside loved ones as we normally do when someone dies, it is imperative that we find a way to allow children to say goodbye and remember them. Studies have repeatedly found that when children are part of funerals and celebrations of life events, they do better.

“Funerals are about mourning,” said Primo, “and mourning is a central component of a child who adjusts to his new norm, expresses his pain, and gains the support of his community.” Without these traditional bookmarks, find other ways to honor your loved one.

For example, have a small ceremony at home and commemorate the person’s life by planting a tree, doing an art project, reading a poem, praising and saying goodbye. You can also collect letters, video tributes, and memories of others and share them with your children. Many have used Zoom to remember those who died. Ask your children, “How would you like to honor and remember ___________?”

This conversation may be one of the most difficult you will have with your children, and one that, given the numbers, will be part of the reality of many families as we face the incredible loss of the coronavirus. It is stressful for everyone involved, for your children and also for you.

Continue looking for the support you need so that you and your children can be cared for during this difficult time. Even though we must be socially distant, no one should have to cry alone.

– Robyn Silverman is a specialist and author in child and adolescent development. She is the presenter of the podcast “How to talk to children about anything.”