Let’s be honest, this school year has been wild. From online learning to hybrid schedules, social distancing to mask wearing, non-traditional clubs and sports to limited social engagement. It has been one change after another.
Students, educators, and parents have worked through the chaos and come out on the other side. School is OUT! So now what?
Summer break has begun and everyone should be happy and thriving, right? Not necessarily. If you have a grieving child or teen, there are some things to keep in mind as you navigate this time away from school.
A major distraction is gone. After a death of a loved one, school can be overwhelming and challenging for some students. This is what most adults assume. But, it is important to remember that this is not the case for every child. For some, school is the perfect distraction from the reality of their loved one’s death. Some students will throw themselves into their academics, sports, and clubs to avoid thinking about the tough situations and feelings they are experiencing. With the onset of summer break, they may no longer have this as an option.
They are no longer attending a safe space.
Of course, we don’t deny that home can be a safe space for children and teens. For some students, school is a different kind of safe. At school, kids might not feel the pressure of being in charge of other people’s feelings. Following a death, home may not feel like such a happy place anymore while they are grieving. School could be a sanctuary for students where they have permission to be a kid and they are not responsible for anyone else. With students being primarily at home, you might notice a stronger grief response and more intense emotions.
Summer triggers may appear.
Some students may be experiencing their first summer break without their loved one. This could lead to some unexpected triggers. Maybe their loved one had special summer traditions or perhaps a close friend that used to come over to play has died. Having their person absent could be a trigger and they might not want to do certain activities they used to love.
So, what can you do to support your grieving child this summer? Here are some ideas:
Get involved in the community. School may be out, but there are other options to explore such as a summer club or sport. You might look into day camps that are available or find a hobby or activity you can do with your child to provide a temporary structure while on break from school.
Help make home a safe place. Talk with your child and see if there are adjustments that would make them feel better while at home. This could be difficult, but they may suggest removing or adding photos of their loved one. Little changes can make a big difference.
Create new traditions and honor old memories. It is important to not avoid past memories in hopes of avoiding an emotional reaction. Not bringing up the person who died or the traditions they introduced could make your child feel like you have forgotten them or don’t care. Take some time to talk with your child about what traditions they would like to continue in honor of their person and encourage them to make new traditions with you that you can continue during future breaks.
Erin’s House is here to support our community through their grief. If you are in need of resources or support, please reach out to us to speak with a Child Grief Specialist: Info@ErinsHouse.org or 260.423.2466.
Kathryn McLaughlin MS.Ed, LMHCA | Grief Clinician/School Liaison & Child Grief Specialist