August 31, 2020

Back to School During COVID-19: Helping Your Child with Grief or Anxiety


By Tracy Hart, LCMHC

This year, with all the changes that COVID-19 has brought to the start of school, many families are finding the transition to school unusually challenging.

It’s normal for kids and teens to feel sad about temporary changes in the back-to-school routine, such as not being able to attend an in-person “open house” event or participate in team sports this fall. They may also seem nervous about remote schooling, or worried about what it will be like to return to the classroom with masks and social distancing.

For families who have experienced a recent death or illness, COVID-related changes may be bringing up intense feelings of anxiety or grief as they simultaneously process personal loss and changes in daily life due to the virus.

Following are some concrete ways to help your child or teen cope with this unusual situation of loss.

Create a special time to talk

Set a certain time each day to talk one-on-one with your child. Creating alone time may be a challenge at times, but even 10 minutes a day of dedicated quality time can be effective in helping kids cope with big emotions. You can encourage them to write or draw their feelings throughout the day and then share these with you during your special time together. Teens may prefer to text you their thoughts and then do an evening check-in.

Tell them it’s OK to feel sad or upset

So-called negative emotions are normal during stressful transitions. Create a written or visual list of acceptable activities to express big feelings, such as punching a pillow, throwing bean bags at a pre-approved target, dancing energetically to music, or scribbling on big paper with crayons or colored pencils. Some kids may need to take frequent “wiggle breaks” to release feelings rather than allowing emotions to escalate into a meltdown.

Make the school aware of your family’s loss

It’s important for the school to be aware of your family’s situation. Many kids or teens may have trouble concentrating or other difficulties as a normal part of the grief process. When teachers know that grief may be influencing academic performance, they will be able to better support your child’s individual needs. The school counselor or social worker can also be a helpful resource for extra support or to help coordinate with teachers about temporary accommodations.

Consult with a grief counselor

Kids Path offers free phone consultations about how to help children and teens cope with death or severe illness. To request a consultation with a Kids Path counselor, call 336-621-2500 (Greensboro) or 336-532-0100 (Burlington) and ask to be connected with Kids Path.

Tracy Hart is a children’s counselor on the Greensboro campus.