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What's Inside:
Navigating Grief & Back to School During the Pandemic

Coping With Grief, Loss, and Isolation

I wonder, I wish, I hope...

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August 2020

Navigating Grief & Back to School During the Pandemic

Back to School Tips

The start of any school year means adjusting to new people and expectations. This is especially true for children who are grieving the death of a parent, caregiver, sibling, or someone else important in their lives.

Now with the COVID-19 pandemic and so many unknowns about whether schools will open for in-person classes, be online, or some mix of the two, going back to school this fall is likely to bring up additional challenges for children and teens who are grieving and the adults who care for them. The much-needed focus on racism and protests against racist violence may be another layer to think about when it comes to supporting children and teens with the transition back to school.

Transitions can be difficult for anyone, but especially so for those who are grieving. To help, we recently created this new Tip Sheet, “Back to School with Grief and the COVID-19 Pandemic.” While the Tip Sheet goes into more detail, here are a few ideas to keep in mind:

■ Work with your child to create a sense of predictability with new routines and rituals.

■ Address fears and worries while making space for excitement and celebration.

■ Acknowledge how cultural expectations and personal experiences impact grief.

■ Make a safety plan for difficult days.

■ Find ways for children and teens to check in with you or other caregivers.

■ Be prepared for challenges with concentration, organization, fears, and unknowns.

■ Make time for recreation and play.

When taking care of a child who is grieving, it’s easy to put aside taking care of yourself. But self-care is important. Research shows the outcomes of children who are grieving are strongly connected to how their adult caregivers are doing. Whether it’s finding time to be by yourself, connecting with others, exercising, being creative, or anything else that brings you ease and comfort, attending to your needs is one of the best ways you can support your child.


Coping With Grief, Loss, and Isolation

Grief, loss, and isolation

Recently, Portland Monthly Magazine sat down with the Dougy Center’s Executive Director, Brennan Wood, to discuss the pandemic and how to cope with feelings of grief, loss, and isolation for ourselves and the kids in our lives. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and not know what to do. This excerpt from the article provides tips and ideas for both adults and children. Read the complete article here.

According to the Dougy Center, it is “common for children and teens to have an increased sense of fear and anxiety after a death” occurs. During the pandemic, kids are hearing about people dying due to the coronavirus every day. If they become increasingly afraid, how can a parent help them cope with that fear?

It’s helpful to normalize having nightmares and fears during this time. For example, parents and caregivers might say, “I also worry about Grandma. When I do, I take three deep breaths and look at my favorite picture of her. That helps me feel calm again.” Since some fears and worries are rooted in a lack of knowledge, you also can ask them if they have questions and then answer honestly, in language they can understand. Talking openly and honestly with your children about traumatic moments or tragic events creates a foundation of trust, enabling them to come to you in the future with their questions, fears, and concerns. Having a consistent daily routine can be helpful, too—establishing a sense of control in a situation that feels very out of control. It can also be helpful to remind children that there are things we can do to help keep ourselves and others safe, including washing our hands, wearing a mask, and keeping our distance.

What signs can a parent look for to determine the depth to which their child might be struggling inside due to the pandemic?

Grief can look different for everyone. Stomachaches, headaches, difficulty concentrating, anger, sadness, worry, confusion, needing extra hugs, wanting to be around you all the time, or acting out. These are all normal reactions to grief, but if you notice ongoing behaviors that interfere with your child’s daily life, seek the advice of a qualified mental health professional.

Many seniors feel so isolated right now. How can their kids and grandkids help them from a distance? And how can seniors combat their own feelings of loneliness and loss during the pandemic?

It can be helpful [for kids and grandkids] to schedule regular phone calls and video chats to check in, even if they are a quick five-minute connection. You can also surprise grandparents with letters, postcards, physically distant visits—wave from the street—and videos of family members saying hello or doing silly things.

It can help [seniors] to consider three categories: nourishing the body and brain, attending to thoughts and feelings, and taking a break from the intensity. Going for a walk, taking deep breaths, eating nutritious food, and stretching are great ways to nourish the body and brain. Writing in a journal, talking with a trusted friend, and working with a therapist are constructive ways to attend to thoughts and feelings. Taking a break from the intensity can include ideas like reading books, listening to music, cleaning, and caring for a houseplant.

If you or someone you know needs additional resources, please visit our website. For immediate crisis support, please call the 24/7 Crisis Line, 1-800-273-8255 or text HELLO to 741741.


I wonder, I wish, I hope...

Grief has a way of drawing us into three places at once: the past, the present, and the future. We might have have questions about what happened, wishes for what we might have done or said differently, and hopes for what might happen for us in the future. This is a great activity to help children, teens, and adults identify those thoughts and feelings through words and images. Grab some markers, crayons, or even magazine clippings if you want to turn it into a collage. Download the full-sized pdf here.

I wonder, I wish, I hope


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