Many parents know that children who are grieving or who are dealing with stress and anxiety often do not perform well in school. The coronavirus pandemic has caused even more upheaval in the lives of young people, and the CDC recently cited published reports that suggest the coronavirus has had a negative effect on children’s mental health. Grief, stress, and anxiety are all contributors.
Cornerstone Hospice has started a Cornerstone’s Kids program which is open to any child or teen in Lake and Sumter counties. It is a free virtual program offering a safe space for kids to find mutual support and strength with peers. Any child experiencing stress and anxiety due to various reasons can join and benefit from the activities.
Kristen Nardolillo, the Children’s Bereavement Counselor for Cornerstone Hospice. Kristen works with bereaved children one-on-one and in therapeutic groups, in addition to directing their annual children’s bereavement camp, Camp Bridges. “This is the first time in 20+ years that we decided to cancel our overnight Camp Bridges experience due to the pandemic and our responsibility to keep families safe. I knew there were many kids that relied on this annual experience to provide them with hope along their healing journey through grief, and I couldn’t just let that go,” Kristen says. This desire led to the creation of the new, virtual Cornerstone’s Kids program, which offers a safe space for youth to stay connected during these uncertain times.
Children grieve differently from adults because they tend to be much more sensitive to the emotions of others around them, Kristen says. Kids are also very intuitive, often knowing more about death than adults think they do. Parents and caregivers often think that there might be something wrong with the way a child is grieving if he or she isn’t showing their emotions in the same way the parent or caregiver does. “Patience is the best practice for those caring for bereaved youth. As long as there is a loving and accepting environment for the child, he or she will open up about their grief naturally when they feel ready and the time is right,” she adds.
Grief is a natural reaction to loss, and depending on the child’s relationship with their deceased loved one and their level of resiliency, a child can experience a shift in their cognition following a loss. This shift may influence a child’s ability to focus on day-to-day tasks, leading to academic decline or loss of interest in recreational activities they once loved. These are signs parents and caregivers should pay attention to following a loss as these major behavioral shifts could lead to depression and a decline in mental health.
“I personally have seen a huge increase in childhood grief during the pandemic, compared to previous years. Children are grieving in more than one way right now. Not only are some kids experiencing the loss of a loved one, but most all children are grieving the life they knew prior to lockdowns, mask-wearing, virtual school, and social distancing,” Kristen says. Life has completely changed for kids this year, and they don’t know whether they’ll ever see that old life again.
Decreased interest in activities that normally bring your kids pleasure, lack of social interest (not wanting to see friends), eating too much or too little, and engaging in “distracted behaviors” like video gaming, watching TV, or scrolling through social media for hours at a time are common signs parents may notice. If a parent suspects that their child may be self-harming, an Emergency Response Team should be consulted immediately and the child should be evaluated by a mental health professional.
Teachers also play a pivotal role in a child’s development. If teachers notice a sudden decline in a student’s academic performance or a decrease in mood, these may be signs that a child is experiencing grief or anxiety. Teachers can notice distress early on, and by bringing these concerns to a parent or caregiver’s attention, they can be the heroes that prevent these issues from exacerbating in the future.
Parents can enroll their kids in the Cornerstone’s Kids program today by visiting CornerstoneHospice.org/Cornerstones-Kids and completing the online registration form, or by calling 866.742.6655. “Cornerstone’s Kids is a program that seeks to be the “hub” of children’s bereavement needs in Central Florida. We are proud to offer these free services and resources to families living in Lake, Sumter, Orange, Osceola, Polk, Highlands, and Hardee counties.” For more information email email@example.com.