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Saturday, July 31, 2021

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COVID and PTSD in Kids

Beautiful little girl in pink dress sits at table and cries.

Ms. Lydia,

I need some help for my 6-year-old daughter. My mother died in March from COVID-19. My daughter was close to her grandmother, and it has been so difficult for us all. My daughter talks about her all the time and then gets incredibly sad, and I feel so helpless to help her because I am sad, too! I worry about her having PTSD from everything that has gone on this past year in the world and now in our family. Can you help?

Angela R., Spotsylvania

Dear Angela,

I would first like to send you my deepest condolences. Losing a parent is traumatic for you and the tragedy is compounded by also having to navigate your daughter’s feelings about death and her grandmother. I am glad that you acknowledge you may need some help with this, for your daughter’s well-being. 

We can find PTSD in children in extreme cases. Symptoms of PTSD in children include:

  • Regression in sleep
  • Excessive tantrums
  • Aggression- hitting, biting
  • Clinging/Separation anxiety
  • Nail biting
  • Excessive rubbing of genitalia
  • Bedwetting

If your daughter is experiencing any of these symptoms and they persist, please seek advice from your pediatrician. You may need a referral to a specialist in this field and treatment may involve psychotherapy, cognitive-behavior therapy or even medication. 

But if your daughter is not experiencing these extreme symptoms, she may just be going through stages of grief and you may need some advice about how to talk to her about Grandma’s death and some tools to help you and her grieve this devastating loss. 

A 6-year-old needs to hear about death in concrete, factual language. Even if it is difficult and your first inclination may be to shield her from what happened to Grandma, but it is so important to be honest and open about her death and acknowledge that it is sad and that it is ok to feel sad. 

Marriage & Family Therapist and Parenting Consultant, Allison LaTona, MFT, a noted psychotherapist and parent guidance expert specializing in the journeys of personal growth, life transitions, partnership, and parenthood explains, “When we talk to kids honestly about death, we give them the opportunity to be exposed to the realities of the Life Cycle and the grieving process (which is a gift) to equip them to deal with future losses that may be even greater.”

In the simplest terms, explain to your daughter that “Grandma got germs in her body, she was not healthy enough to fight off the germs and she died” or “Grandma had a problem with her breathing and her body stopped working. She stopped breathing, so she died.” Do not shy away from using terms that might make you feel uncomfortable. Your daughter needs clear facts so that she can process what happened and move through her grief. After giving her the facts, end with reassurance that she has nothing wrong in her body and neither does mom and dad. You are all grateful to be healthy. 

LaTona also recommends using the “drip” method when discussing topics such as death with your children. Give them small amounts of information and then wait for them to ask questions and then “drip” them more information. Sometimes adults tend to overexplain to children, so just give her the facts and reassurance…. let her process this and come back to you with more questions and then give her another “drip”. This could go on for years and that is ok. 

Once you have given your daughter the facts about Grandma’s passing and allowed her the time to process her grief and you have been available to offer reassurance and love, it is a good idea to help her with healing (and help yourself in the process). Talk about your favorite memories with your mom and allow your daughter to share her memories. If Grandma was a great cookie baker, make her cookie recipe with your daughter and enjoy them as you honor her Grandma. Look at photo albums, draw pictures, share stories… all of these will honor your mother’s legacy. If your mom was a bird watcher, get out the binoculars and search for some birds. There are so many ways that you can help walk your daughter through the grieving process without just staying in the place of sadness and in doing this, you both can heal. 

LaTona also suggests using a company like Twigtale to help your daughter through the grief process. Twigtale makes personalized books in which the narrative of the story is in place, and you can add the details of your mother’s passing as well as photos to make it a personal storybook for your daughter that will be shipped to you. The story explains death and what happened to Grandma in a concrete, factual way that also normalizes the emotions that your daughter might be feeling, sadness, anger, frustration, fear, etc.

I wish you the best of luck in helping your family through your grief and I hope that once the world returns to “normal” you all can focus on the happy memories that you have created with your mother.

Best,

Ms. Lydia

Have a question you want Ms. Lydia to answer in a future issue? Email her at Lydsville2@ca.rr.com

Lydia Smith
Lydia Smith has a degree in Developmental Psychology and was a preschool  owner/director/teacher for 25 years. She is the mother of two adult sons.

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