by Ashley Eppolito

Fall has always been an especially notable season of transition, especially in New England. Away go the swim shorts, and out come the warm sweaters.
This fall, more than ever before, it seems fair to say that we are all in need of some extra cozy, comfort measures.

As the children and teens in your life prepare to transition, perhaps back to school, they are grasping for any sort of structure or familiarity.

So, how can we support grieving children and teens, during this period of transition, amidst a pandemic?

Grieving children, teens, and families are at an increased risk for suffering from the lasting effects of social isolation during this time of global turmoil. This may be an especially challenging time for those experiencing the loss of someone who typically helped them through these times. Their grief needs to be validated. Their grief deserves to be seen. Their grief is still at the forefront of their lives.

Something we know for sure is that children and teens react and respond to the cues, emotions, and coping mechanisms that are displayed by the adults in their lives. Children, specifically, are more likely to be concerned about other loved one’s health and safety following a death.

Practicing safety without eliciting fear is an important goal to be mindful of.

Children and teens, like always, will have questions: questions about grief, about the pandemic, about current transitions, about life. Be honest. Don’t pressure yourself to have a magical answer, or an all-too detailed one. Share what you know for sure. And remember it’s okay if the answer to any question is simply, “I don’t know yet.”

Because here’s what you do know: you’re going to get through this together.

The return of school is a great time to establish some household routines. Routines do not have to be strict, but rather something that provides a sense of predictability and safety. Talk with your child or teen about creating a routine that gives them something to look forward to.

Acknowledge that things are hard right now. Ask what can help.

Some examples may include implementing a morning routine to start the day off right – maybe you all eat breakfast or go for a walk together before diving into any work. Or maybe you have a dance party at 10:30 everyday, no exceptions.

Other routines can include setting time aside to talk about each other’s grief or the special person you’re missing. Call it a Safety Circle, Coffee & Conversation, Calls with the Clouds, or whatever is fitting for your household.
You could use this time to ask each other how you’re each really feeling that day, talk about what the special person’s favorite part of the day/season would’ve been, or what you’re missing most. In fact, this time doesn’t necessarily have to be used to chat; perhaps you light a special candle, go visit a shared favorite place, or engage in some expressive art.
Creating routines that remind you to take a break from routine is important too. Breaks and distractions are important! Time away from thinking about grief or the global pandemic is vital.

Keep the distancing physical, not social!

Video chat friends and family! Have a virtual talent show or bake off! Binge watch or read the same series as a pal! Devote time to a new hobby or creative outlet! Share playlists! Go for a distanced walk or picnic with buddies. Rediscover board games! Try getting outside in a new way, like hiking! Challenge each other to silly theme days! Whatever you do, try your best to make it engaging, calm, and happy. After all, we know life is captured best in moments.

For more fun ideas and helpful resources, check out this blog from our friends at the Dougy Center.