Coronavirus: How to help a child who is scared of losing a loved one

There’s lots that young people may be worried about at the moment, and sometimes it can be difficult to know how to help.

One fear that can be particularly hard to overcome is that someone they know and love will die of Covid-19. Conversations with this as the starting point are naturally going to be difficult to have.

We spoke to Clare Bullen at Child Bereavement UK, who shared some advice on how to help children and young people through this difficult time.

How do I reassure my child when the news scares them?

First of all, acknowledge that the news is unsettling and it’s normal to feel afraid. Limit exposure to news and allow young people to ask questions about what they have seen and heard. Explain what the government is doing and why things like staying at home and hand washing are helpful and important.

How do I explain why my child can’t see their grandparents?

Explain why it’s important to stay away from other people in order to protect them, especially those who are more vulnerable such as elderly people. Remind them that the situation is temporary and it won’t be like this forever. Find ways to stay in touch such as video chat, phone calls or sending letters and drawings.

Encourage your kids to stay in contact with relatives or other loved ones they're worried about

A relative has fallen ill - how do I explain what’s happening without scaring them?

Give honest information that is appropriate to the age and understanding of the young person. Young people will know if you’re avoiding their questions. Stick to the facts and if you don’t know the answer to a question, say so - say that you will find out and then let them know.

Don’t promise that everything will be okay as this will make it harder for the young person to cope with their grief if their relative dies. If the young person knows the facts in advance, this will help them to process the information and be more prepared.

If someone close to my child dies, how can I help them through it?

Let the young person know that it’s normal to feel sad and angry, and that it’s also okay to have fun and to smile and laugh sometimes. Answer any questions the young person has honestly and openly. If you don’t know the answer, say so.

Also, don’t be afraid to let a young person see that you are also upset. Demonstrate that is okay to show sadness. If you are open, a young person will feel able to share their feelings too.

If we get told we can’t go to a funeral, how do I explain this to my child and what can we do instead?

Explain why it is not possible to go to the funeral and that this is to protect people from the coronavirus. Together, think of some ways you can say goodbye from home to the person who has died and ways in which you can remember them, such as planting something, drawing a picture, or just talking. Also encourage friends and family to join you in remembering the person who has died for instance via video chat.

Need a hand? Use this video with your children to give them some practical tips on how to get through their fears and worries.

Encourage them to:

  • Acknowledge their feelings
  • Talk about it
  • Look after themselves
  • Seek support
WATCH: Clare Bullen from Child Bereavement UK gives tips for children on how they can deal with worrying thoughts about death

Clare also gave some tips on how to help your child, or a child you look after, cope:

Talk

  • Young people often find it helpful to talk about what is happening, helping them to make sense of events and feel less afraid.
  • Discuss their fears or anxieties honestly.
  • Encourage the young person to limit their exposure to social media and media coverage

Be honest

  • Give honest, factual information and be guided by them.
  • Discuss things that affect them directly such as how the virus is spread, why they can’t meet with their friends, why their school has closed, why they can’t visit a grandparent, or why a parent is working from home.

Acknowledge concerns

  • Don’t shy away from acknowledging that some people may die, as young people need to trust that you are being honest and open with them, so that they can ask you other questions with confidence.
  • Explain that some people will have no symptoms and will be fine, most people will experience only a mild form of the virus and will get better, but some people are more vulnerable, so we need to make sure that everyone is protected.

Encourage routines and self-care

  • Routines can be reassuring to young people when everything else seems to be disrupted.
  • Encourage a young person to get plenty of sleep and to keep to regular routines such as mealtimes, doing schoolwork, speaking to friends and taking exercise.
  • Make sure they get time to connect with family and friends such as through video chat or by phone, in a way that is safe.
  • Do something creative such as art, listening to or making music, cooking, or writing a journal.

Get support

  • If you are struggling with your own reactions, try to get support for yourself. Children and young people are quick to pick up on the distress of others around them, even if the adults are trying to hide their feelings.
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