Helping Kids Cope on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day

Parent-focused holidays might feel a little different for students who have lost parents to COVID-19. Use these tips to create a more positive learning environment for grieving students.

Topics: Pandemic Leadership, Health and Wellness, Mental Health and Safety

For many students, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day will be different this year after an estimated 167,000-plus children in the U.S. have lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. Parent-focused holidays have always had the potential to trigger grief responses in children who have lost a parent or caregiver. This year, with more children grieving and many experiencing greater anxiety generally, it is especially important for educators to be mindful of the ways they introduce activities about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

What Educators Can Do

Educators might know of students who have experienced the death of a parent or caregiver. However, it is not possible to know the full array of losses facing every student. The following steps help create a more positive learning environment for students across a range of circumstances.

  1. Introduce activities thoughtfully. Some students might have lost a parent. Some might have a parent who is incarcerated, on military deployment, or separated from the family. Others might be in foster care settings or live with extended family. Still others might have a father (or fathers) and no mother, or vice versa. Keep the focus of any instructions broad enough to include all of these students. For example: “Tomorrow we’re going to do an activity for Mother’s Day where I ask you to focus on your mothers. Some of you might not have a mother who is alive or currently living with you. You can focus on your memories of your mother or pick another woman who has been supportive and important to you. This might be someone you’re close to now or someone who has been important to you in the past.” Adapt the activity, if necessary, to keep it inclusive (e.g., revise templates with “Mom” on them).
  2. Reach out to students you know have lost a parent or caregiver. Approach students privately before introducing the activity to the class. Let them know what you’re planning. Check to see if they want to participate or would prefer an alternative activity. Tell them you will not call on them to share their work with the class, though they can volunteer if they wish.
  3. Understand grief triggers and have a plan. Many different events in school can trigger a grief response. The response might be mild and brief to a student, or it might be intense and troubling. When necessary, help students find a safe place to experience powerful feelings and regain their composure (school counselor or nurse office, library, or a moment in the hallway).

These simple steps can make a genuine difference for grieving students. Find more information at the website of the Coalition to Support Grieving Students, including the module on grief triggers and COVID-19 pandemic guidance for educators.