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Helping Children Cope with the Loss of a Parent to COVID

depressed adolescent girl

The pandemic has taken a toll on a scale that none of us has experienced in our lifetimes. Individuals and families have had to deal with loss and grief in addition to the extreme anxiety and stress we have all experienced. And the high mortality rate among prime-age adults, many of whom are parents, has left an unprecedented number of children to cope with the death of one or both of their parents.

Researchers currently estimate that over 40,000 children in the United States have lost a parent to COVID-19. The death of a parent is a tragic event for a child of any age. For children who have experienced the sudden death of a parent due to COVID, it can be especially traumatizing. Surviving parents and families who are struggling with their own grief, illness, social isolation or economic hardship may feel completely unprepared to give bereaved children the support they need.

It’s important to understand that children grieve differently from adults, and young children may not even understand what death means. They may worry they have done something to cause the death, or feel angry at the person who has died. If you have several children, they may express how they are feeling in different ways depending on their age and personality.

Knowing what to say and how to support children during this time isn’t easy. If you are the surviving parent or a family member, you are also dealing with your own emotions. Know that it’s unrealistic, if not impossible, to protect your children from loss, pain or sadness. But you can help them feel secure and cope in the healthiest way possible.

A traumatic death is particularly hard to talk about, but children will be curious about how their loved one died. Rather than avoiding an explanation, focus on giving them developmentally appropriate information without overwhelming them. For example, you might explain that the person had a disease that doctors weren’t able to cure. As children get older you can give them more information if they ask for it, but try not to share troubling details. Reassure them that you or other caregivers are healthy and will take care of them.

It’s normal for children to process traumatic loss over the course of many years as their understanding of it changes. However, losing a parent at an early age can have long-term consequences, including being prone to symptoms of depression, being more anxious and withdrawn, having problems in school and experiencing difficulty developing intimate relationships.

No matter what the child’s age, professional counseling can be important after a parent's death, especially if the loss is unexpected or traumatic. In addition to helping your child or children cope effectively, family counseling can provide support for you, as the surviving parent or caregiver, in the process of recovering.

At Hellenic Therapy Center, 567 Park Avenue, Scotch Plains, New Jersey, we offer day, evening and weekend sessions via FaceTime, Zoom and phone. Please call 908-322-0112 to schedule an appointment.


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