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Helping Our Kids Grieve What COVID-19 Has Taken From Them

woman comforting crying female child
Hansa Bhargava, MD - Blogs
By Hansa D. Bhargava, MDBoard-certified pediatricianApril 07, 2020

My friend’s daughter is a senior in high school. After finding out that school will be cancelled for the rest of the year, she was in tears, upset about all that she will miss: spring break, prom, and those bittersweet last days at school saying goodbye to friends and teachers and signing yearbooks. Even her high school graduation is cancelled. She is devastated.

For a lot of kids, it has been a time of disappointments, sadness, and frankly, loss. Graduations, recitals, sports tournaments, and many other exciting commitments that kids have been looking forward to are no longer happening as planned. And parents, who currently are also dealing with the stress of sheltering in place, may be at a loss on how to deal with it.

These types of losses can cause kids to go through feelings similar to the stages of grief. First there is denial of the reality of the situation and hope that this will go away. Then there is anger and frustration, which many kids may be feeling right now. And then there can be sadness, and even depression.

It can be hard to watch our kids suffer like this. Our first instinct may be to try to find a way to “fix it” for them.

But, what if, in this case, being a good parent means allowing our kids to experience the loss and go through the pain? What if this experience will help them become stronger and more resilient, more open and flexible to change?

In fact, kids who are exposed to some form of adversity do become more flexible in their thinking. They understand that everything will not always go as planned and become more accepting of change. For example, if a parent loses a job, or there is a divorce, kids need to navigate around potentially moving, not having resources for certain activities or items, or even managing relationships with their parents. Life events such as these are hard, but on the bright side, can build up their life “toolbox” and help them learn how to be agile and accepting of the inevitable curves that life will throw at them.

As a mom of twins who were looking forward to an 8th grade graduation this year, I do understand how the kids can feel. Initially, I was disappointed for them, but most recently we’ve had conversations about what we can do instead. We also talked about how it’s okay for things to go wrong sometimes and acknowledge the feelings of loss that we can have. And then we talked about how we also need to appreciate what we do have currently, which for us, has been more time together. We’ve enjoyed walks, movies, and board games together, which we normally rarely do, as we are all usually in a rush from school to activity to homework. And they have had virtual get-togethers with their friends on Facetime, social media, and texting.

My friend who has the high school senior had similar conversations with her daughter. They ultimately decided that they’ll do a mini “graduation” in the summer with 8 of her friends and their families in their backyard. They will all wear their prom dresses and enjoy a barbecue. It won’t be the formal high school ceremony, but it will still be a celebration with the people that matter. They’ll be marking the end to a chapter in their life and with the knowledge that they all are wiser and stronger for having been through this crisis.

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About the Author
Hansa D. Bhargava, MD

Hansa Bhargava, MD, is a medical editor and WebMD's expert pediatrician. She oversees the team of medical experts responsible for ensuring the accuracy and credibility of the pediatric content on the site.

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