BLACK CHILDREN ARE STRUGGLING WITH COVID-19 GRIEF BUT Is being Black a precondition for contracting THE CORONAVIRUS? In short, the answer is No.
A quick glance at the data shows that Black people are more than twice as likely to die from coronavirus than any other racial group in the United States. The reason being that the conditions under which most people of color live, inadequate health care coverage, experiences of racism, limited access to quality foods and education, low wage jobs, have made them most vulnerable to the pernicious disease. As the U.S. death toll soars past 127,0000, Black families are left reeling from heart wrenching loss, and parents are given the unfortunate task of having to explain it all to their kids.
Anica Camela Mulzac, Psy.D
Dr, Anica Camela Mulzac, is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Grieving at a distance
While measures such as donning face masks, singing happy birthday when hand-washing, and staying six-feet apart help promote the physical wellbeing of kids and parents alike, their emotional and mental health struggles in the face of loss are often overlooked. Among these are depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and grief. Due to social distancing guidelines, and shelter in place orders many are unable to say final goodbyes in person to loved ones who have succumbed to COVID-19. Even traditional rituals such as funerals have taken on a different look for grieving families, with virtual services, reduced number of in person attendees, and limited opportunity to exchange physical gestures of comfort such as hugs and kisses.
In times of uncertainty children look to trusted adults to offer assurance, stability, and guidance.
COMMUNICATE & PROTECT
Instinctively parents seek to shield their children from perceived dangers, and thus to reduce fear and anxiety among their kids, they may be tempted to minimize, or fudge information related to COVID-19 and the death of loved ones. However, such practices may be more problematic than beneficial. In times of uncertainty children look to trusted adults to offer assurance, stability, and guidance. Therefore, it is imperative that parents honestly communicate known facts in a manner appropriate for the child’s age and developmental level. For instance, the steady stream of dire news headlines about the virus may foster worry among Black children about their own susceptibility. The best response may be summarized as follows: “Risk factors are not predictive factors because of the protective factors.” In other words, parents can help curb fears by informing kids that simply being Black does not increase risk for the disease.
GIVE THEM INFORMATION
Parents can provide context for the high death numbers by noting the influential medical conditions (i.e. diabetes, asthma, heart problems), and social factors listed earlier that do contribute to the fatal health outcomes. Additionally, parents can highlight the protective factors that they and their children can cultivate to help reduce risk, such as staying home when possible, limiting contact with those outside of the home, seeking medical care when needed, and maintaining sanitization methods. Mental health practices such as meditation and mindfulness, prayer, open and honest dialogue, exercising, and connecting with therapeutic supports may further improve wellbeing. By reminding children of their own areas of agency to combat the virus, parents can help instill feelings of safety and empowerment.
Parents are further encouraged to stay mindful of the way they speak about COVID-19, as dismissive or inflammatory language may skew how children process and respond to the threat of the virus. Thus, striking a balanced tone may be most valuable; one that acknowledges the seriousness of the pandemic as well as the good that remains. For example, a daily practice of expressing gratitude whether in writing or speech may be done collectively (i.e. during mealtimes, before bed) as a means of fostering hope and resilience.
Start a daily practice of expressing gratitude whether in writing or speech may be done collectively (i.e. during mealtimes, before bed) as a means of fostering hope and resilience.
Though pain and grief are universal emotional experiences, the way they manifest may vary from person to person. Some may become withdrawn and despondent, others may appear clingy and angry, while several others may seem unaffected by the loss. Consequently, it is important for parents to recognize and normalize these presentations in themselves and their children. Parents can effectively care for children dealing with loss by first taking care of themselves. By pausing to reflect, identify, and acknowledge their own thoughts and feelings regarding the death, whether through journaling or therapy, parents may be better positioned to help children explore their own grief. The usage of a feeling chart may also be beneficial for both parents and children, providing descriptive language to aid understanding of their experiences.
Despite limitations imposed by COVID-19, parents can provide creative outlets for themselves and their children to bid goodbye to loved ones. This may be done through writing poetry or spoken word, a song or rap, or a personal eulogy to honor the deceased. Other creative measures include memorializing their beloved’s favorite things: collaging treasured pictures, compiling a playlist of songs, cooking or baking a meal or a dessert, or watching a movie or a tv show. Allowing children to tap into their strengths and express their own style in the project will undoubtedly increase the potency and personal significance of the act.
Indeed, these times are challenging. But a measure of solace amid loss is awareness of the enduring legacy of Black families everywhere, one of survival and triumph. To echo a blessed refrain: This too shall pass.
Dr. Anica Camela Mulzac
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Anica Camela Mulzac, Psy.D combines her passion for Race + Diversity with years of clinical training and experience to help dismantle all expressions of racism, prejudice, and bias in her sphere of influence. She is also the creator/founder of the consulting firm, Race (+) Positive.
New York, USA