As the pandemic continues, and this week our nation struggles once more against the legacy of racial injustice and violence, our children look on.
Children and teens are experiencing the continued uncertainty of Covid and its impact on school, peer relationships, and future plans. Additionally, the events in Washington D.C. on January 6 were deeply disturbing and young people may feel anxiety, confusion, fear, sadness, or anger, and have questions about what they see and hear in the media and from friends. As parents, we’re holding space for our children’s feelings alongside our own anxiety, fury, and questions about moving forward. What follows are resources specifically for children, youth, and families.*
Where to Put Feelings
I was reminded by a Friend that worry dolls are a simple way to acknowledge children’s concerns and help them to find a place to put them. Sitting with a child while they share their worries, fears, and questions with the small doll and put it under their pillow at bedtime may not resolve the feelings, but it models healthy sharing and perspective.
Children need us to hear their concerns, and we can provide reassurance even if we do not have answers. Offering up our concerns in prayer is another way to acknowledge and place them in a larger “container” of our faith. This set of coloring pages “Prayers For When You Feel Anxious” includes both suggested prayers and three different sets of images for mindful coloring.
Young children cannot always articulate their feelings, and they may show us how they are feeling through play or behaviors. Sadness may look like: anger, tiredness, boredom, numbing out (often on screens), displaced frustration, resisting direction from adults. Their anxiety may show up as: anger, negativity, difficulty sleeping (particularly falling asleep), defiance, avoidance, lack of focus, over-planning, and chandeliering (“flying off the handle”).
In her article, Five Things Kids Need in Order to Learn and Thrive During this Pandemic Year (linked below), Stephanie Malia Krauss names children’s need to:
- Feel safe: physically and emotionally
- Know what’s going on (within age-appropriate parameters)
- Feel socially and emotionally connected
- Have time, space, and support to learn and create
- Feel loved and know they belong
Resources for Adults Supporting Children:
Spiritual Practices for Use During a Traumatic News Event from Traci Smith
A Kids Book About Anxiety by Ross Szabo from the “A Kids Book About” series. The inside covers suggests, ”This book is best read together, grownup and kid.”
It’s Not Just Adults Who Are Stressed. Kids Are, Too. — Identifying your child’s emotional and behavioral reactions to stress is crucial, experts say, especially when anxieties are high.
“It’s okay to just be sad” from Courtney Martin and her blog, “the examined family.”
“Coping with COVID-19: A Work Book for Kids and Teens” Designed to help children and teens communicate and cope with their feelings and emotions regarding the global Covid 19 pandemic. Includes writing and drawing prompts to help create a therapeutic experience and provide an opportunity to have open conversations. A good resource for pastoral care for young people (this resource does not touch on death or bereavement).
“Death feels closer”
There may be times in coming days when, in our experience as a meeting, or as a family, or as friends and neighbors, there is a child or young person dealing with loss. A research study published by Penn State University last summer concluded that every Covid-19 death leaves an average of nine survivors who have lost a grandparent, parent, sibling, spouse or child. Millions of Americans are in mourning for friends and relatives, co-workers and community members.
Some of the more difficult conversations I’ve had in the past months with my own children have been about death. My college-aged child remarked during a conversation one day, “Death feels closer,”and has expressed anxiety about family and friends getting sick. A younger sibling has shown up at my bedside unable to sleep, and shared their deep uneasiness about the inevitability of death. “Darn existential questions!,” he tried to joke through tears.
As a parent, I hold my children close and provide what comfort I can. I’m glad for the Godly Play stories they heard and wondered about as younger children, which gave them images and language for big questions about the Divine and created spaces to come close to existential questions we all face about death and aloneness.
Thinking about how we talk about death and helping children develop a vocabulary for loss and grief is pastoral care preparation we can also do across ages in meeting communities. There are excellent resources for children through adolescents for talking about death and dying, that could be recommended to a family in need of support. In addition to this list of books about grief for young children through teens, the titles below are highly recommended.
Suggested Books about Death and Grief:
Giants by A.E. McIntyre, illustrated by ElisaBeth Steines. A gentle treatment of a child’s grief story, written by a parent who lost their own parent as a young child. Website for the book.
The Pear Tree A folktale retold by Luli Gray and illustrated by Madelyn Goodnight. Probably better for older children, the message is that death is a reality of life, but there is always hope.
Death Is Stupid by Anastasia Higginbotham is part of the “Ordinary Terrible Things” series. A realistic and moving read-along for a child and adult.
The Memory Tree by Britta Teckentrup is a story about remembering and letting go, and what remains — the forest animals lead the way.
A Little Blue Bottle by Jennifer Grant, illustrated by Gillian Whiting. Thinking about the sadness of losing a neighbor, and what our grief means to God. Includes a page, “Best Practices for When a Child Is Grieving.”
A Kids Book About Death by Taryn Schuelke from the “A Kids Book About” series. The inside covers suggests, ”This book is best read together, grownup and kid.”
*Pastoral Care for our Community during the COVID-19 Outbreak is another resource by my colleague George Schaefer, Care & Aging Coordinator. Adults seeking support can also reach out to the Friends Counseling Service.
Melinda Wenner Bradley, Youth Religious Life Coordinator firstname.lastname@example.org. (My children gave their permission to be quoted in this piece.)