Helping Children Understand The Five Losses That Make the COVID-19 Pandemic So Devastating

by: Alexandra Kennedy, MA, MFT
Here are five losses that make this COVID-19 pandemic so devastating to our families, followed by some suggestions for embracing the grief we find ourselves and our children experiencing, without feeling overwhelmed.
The 5 losses that make COVID-19 grief difficult for kids

Our world changed drastically, seemingly overnight. As the coronavirus emptied our streets, closed our businesses, threatened our lives, and isolated us in our homes, we have experienced profound losses. In response, our grief is deep, complicated and many layered—it is normal, natural and necessary to grieve.

More: 5 Tips for Parenting Anxious Kids During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Here are five losses that make this COVID-19 pandemic so devastating to our families, followed by some suggestions for embracing the grief we find ourselves and our children experiencing, without feeling overwhelmed.

The Loss of the World As We Had Known It

Photographs of empty streets all over the world are now seared in our memories. No one has ever before experienced this shocking phenomenon of the world stopping, coming to a halt. We will never go back to the world we had known; we are grieving for that world we knew.

The Loss of Security

The world no longer feels safe. We are told that the virus is highly contagious, can be passed by people who have no symptoms and might live on every package that comes to our door; everyone and everything is seen as a potential threat. As the numbers of deaths mount, we are faced with our own mortality and the deaths of loved ones, friends and colleagues. Add to that the loss of financial security as jobs are lost, businesses close and investments plummet.

The Loss of Social Connection

As we are forced into our homes to shelter in place, we find ourselves isolated from our communities. This can be difficult for children to understand. With social distancing, we feel a loss of physical contact - no hugs, handshakes or touching. The rituals that offer meaningful connection and celebration have been postponed or canceled. We are all dreading the possibility that we won’t be able to be with our sick loved ones in hospitals or in quarantine. It’s devastating to think that we might not even be able to be at the bedside of a dying loved one.

The Loss of Normalcy

With businesses and schools closing, we have lost the normal structure of our everyday lives.  All too quickly, we’ve lost our routines; as we struggle to adjust to new patterns, we are often grieving for those simple, predictable moments of our old life.  How many times have we longed for just one normal day that we used to have!

The Loss of Our Future

The future we had once imagined for ourselves has been severely shaken. We can’t imagine what other losses might be in store, as we are told to prepare for an economic recession and for the strong possibility of this virus flaring up repeatedly over the next few years.   This is anticipatory grief - anticipating the losses and accompanying grief that is coming in the future. As we emerge from sheltering in place, what will our new world look like?

How to Help Your Child Deal With Grief Regarding the Coronavirus

As we are facing all these losses, the extent and impact of our grief is often not recognized. Unresolved grief can affect every aspect of our being—we end up contracting from life and shutting down. Since unattended, unprocessed grief can wreak havoc on our physical and emotional health, it is critical that we start by acknowledging the presence of this grief. And then begin to embrace it in small doses. As a psychotherapist specializing in grief I know from my work that experiencing grief in small doses is the key to healing.

Here is one simple thing you can do and encourage your children to try as well:  

Find a place in your home where you feel safe and undisturbed as you turn toward your grief. Set aside 10-20 minutes a day, turn off electronics/the phone, sit down, close your eyes and bring your attention to the grief as you are experiencing it right now. Take a breath—feel where that grief is residing in your body, what feelings are coming up. Don’t let your mind and thoughts run away with fear and scenarios of the future. Just be present with your grief right now as it is moving through you. Honor your grief. Let it flow—that is the secret to healing. 

Grief responds to our attention. We are relieved that we can experience it without getting overwhelmed. By embracing our grief and letting it flow, we will find that we have the energy, clarity and strength to prepare ourselves for a new world as we emerge from our sheltering in place.

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Alexandra Kennedy, MA, MFT is a psychotherapist in private practice and author of Honoring Grief, Losing a Parent, The Infinite Thread: Healing Relationships Beyond Loss, and How Did I Miss All This Before? Waking Up to the Magic of Our Ordinary Lives. Alexandra has been featured in national media and is a highly sought-after speaker. She has been on the faculty of John F Kennedy University, the University of California Santa Cruz Extension and the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. For more information on her work, visit www.alexandrakennedy.com.