Katherine Rosenblum, PhD, a child and adolescent psychologist at Michigan Medicine, notes that due to the nature of COVID-19, many children are struggling with both tragic and unexpected loss.
“It may have been really sudden or they may have lacked the opportunity to say goodbye and engage in cultural and religious observations and mourning rituals that help children and families through that process,” she said.
Younger children are typically affected in much different ways than older kids. For example, elementary-aged children often partake in what experts refer to as “magical thinking.”
“All kids will try to make sense of what happened, but the little ones tend to see things in very ego-centric ways, so they might worry that they did something wrong or that they caused it,” Rosenblum said.
This can especially play out in the time of COVID-19, where children may worry how their parents contracted the virus and if they played a role.
“It’s really important to listen to kids’ worries and reassure them that there’s nothing they did or didn’t do to cause this,” Rosenblum said.
Older children, particularly teens, can have a better handle on reality, though given the nature of COVID-19, it wouldn’t be uncommon for them to also worry if they were part of the reason their parent got sick, experts say. However, teens may also be dealing with more complex feelings.
“They may be struggling with feelings of guilt or worry if there were conflicts or challenges which are really normative in that developmental period, and worrying if their parent knew what they meant to them,” Rosenblum said. “They may need a lot of reassurance that their parent knew how much they loved them.”