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Talking to children about grief and loss

In the last few days, we’ve been talking with Child & Family Services mobile crisis intervention program manager Matthew Boyd about ways to help children through the uncertainty and isolation related to the pandemic.

Boyd has offered tips for supporting your child as they deal with new ways of behaving due to the virus and also preparing them for new routines and rules that they’ll encounter this fall in school.

Perhaps the most difficult conversation for any parent to have with their child is helping them cope when a loved one gets sick or dies from the virus.

“For children who may have lost a loved one due to COVID-19, it's important to validate their feelings of sadness, or to let them cry,” Boyd said, adding that this process allows adults and caregivers to share in their child’s emotional reaction.

Being present for those emotions helps children see that death and dying are a normal part of life.

Boyd suggests using books designed for children to facilitate these conversations.

For young children, he recommends The Fall of Freddie the Leaf by Leo Buscaglia, PhD. For adolescents and teens, he suggests The Grieving Teen A Guide for Teenagers and Their Friends by Helen Fitzgerald.

“It's important that we inform children that it's not their fault and they did nothing to cause the death of the individual whom they've lost,” he said.

These conversations are crucial for children but Boyd also stresses the importance of parents also taking time to care for themselves throughout these changes and for educating themselves about local resources that are available when extra support is needed.

“Parents can identify supports whether natural (such as friends and family), or formal (such as clergy, counselors, or a support group) so that they can have an outlet for their stress and anxiety,” he said. “The more that parents display the ability to utilize healthy coping skills the more children will also attempt to cope with their own stress and anxiety. Parents (and) caregivers are role models and highly influential on their children.”

“If an individual (child or adult) is struggling, professional help is available. With the implementation of telehealth, access to mental health professionals has greatly increased. If an individual needs immediate mental health or substance abuse services the Emergency Services Program can help and may avoid a visit to the emergency room. Every city and state in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has an Emergency Services Program which can be accessed by calling 1-877-382-1609 and entering the zip code where you reside.”

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