Navigating COVID-19 death and loss with your child

As kids begin to socialize again, they might have to face grieving friends. Here’s how to start the conversation with your child.

As the weather warms up and more people are vaccinated, families are cautiously making social arrangements like birthday parties and playdates for kids again. However, this overdue reunion in the midst of a deadly pandemic could prove to be a somber affair for some children.

In the United States, an estimated 37,300 to 43,000 children experienced a parent dying of COVID-19, according to a research letter published in JAMA Pediatrics. That number does not include kids who lost their nonparental primary caregivers. In a pre-pandemic world, children facing loss might have taken solace in their peer-support system or rituals like wakes or memorials to help them grieve. But with the banning of large gatherings, mandatory quarantine, remote schooling, and social distancing, children have been further isolated from the support they need.

“The statistic is so devastating and heartbreaking,” says Carolyn Spiro, clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Health. “Death and grieving are universal, but COVID has added another layer because it also disrupted so much of how we mourn.”

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