7 May 2020

Grief and Guinea Pigs – helping your child navigate change and loss

Posted in Family Space / Parents & Carers / SU QLD

Recently I shared a meal with a couple who had bought their young son a guinea pig. In itself, this is common practice. The motive for adopting this ‘family member’ stood out to me and spoke a lot about their thought-filled approach to parenting.

They explained that as Guinea pigs have short lives, this would create a space in which their child could learn about life and death in a gentle way.

Amidst everything we want to teach our children, we may give little thought to educating them about grief. Although loss is inevitable, it often takes us by surprise and finds us unprepared.

As we navigate this season of COVID-19, I wonder if it might provide some opportunities to equip our kids in this area. Many of my chats in the schoolyard have been about loss and change – maybe some of what I’ve learned along the way will be helpful.

Grief is associated with most change and loss

Grief and death are not exclusively connected. Most loss and change brings a level of grief. COVID-19 has brought many changes to the lives our kids once knew. Missed sporting matches, camps, school events, time with friends and extended family, and celebrations are all losses. There may also be some bigger hurts – death of a loved one, loss of family income and deferred family goals and dreams. As people we form attachments to people, places, possibilities and objects; when those things are lost, we grieve. 

Grief needs to be witnessed by others

A grief therapist called William Worden claims we need to be ‘seen’ as we grieve. This is different from attempting to rescue our kids from pain and is the opposite of encouraging them with a dismissive ‘things could be worse’ kind of perspective. Let’s take the time to really see and hear the hearts of our children and teens. To explain how our bodies can signal emotions, as well as to model and teach a vocabulary for feelings. Using emojis and illustrations can be a good prompt for conversation and decrease the need for words.

Grief can challenge and shape our view of God 

Don’t expect to wrap the whole COVID-19 thing into one neat spiritual explanation for your children. Not only is this approach unhelpful, it also deprives our children of the chance to join us as we question what God is doing right now. Wondering, searching and doubting are all part of the journey. Share Bible stories of times when God’s people lost what they had and faced uncertainty; talk about the lessons they learned and the wisdom they gained. Take time to listen, discuss and record what you are learning together.

There can be celebration in the middle of grief

Don’t forget to create the opportunity for fun, celebration and joy. It’s healthy to alternate between being real about what has been lost and having some time away from the grief. Get ideas from your kids; be creative and play. This will send the empowering message that even a small child can choose to act in a way that provides relief from their sadness.

So before you rush out and buy a small rodent with a short lifespan – consider what COVID-19 might be for your family. I think it can help us to parent in a way that prepares our children to walk into changing times with a loving God.


About the author…

Andrea is a former secondary school teacher and counsellor. She has worked as a school chaplain for over 19 years and now also serves part-time on SU QLD’s Children and Youth Program Team, delivering training and professional development to chaplains and youth workers. Andrea and her husband are parents to three adult children and grandparents to two.


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