Hispanic cultures are often celebrated for deep family bonds and a strong sense of pride, but those traits can also be barriers to support for people who are grieving. That’s a challenge for Hispanic families, especially now.
Covid-19 has impacted Latinx families even more than many others, for a few reasons: more likely to have in-person front-line jobs, only 1 out of 6 Latinos have worked from home during the pandemic, half the rate of other groups. This greater exposure to the virus and lower vaccination rates mean the Hispanic community is suffering more deaths and more grief.
Since COVID-19 is impacting Hispanics at younger ages than others, more Hispanic kids have lost a parent or caregiver. There’s a good chance you know a child who is dealing with grief, since 1 out of 14 kids has faced the death of a parent or sibling,
The numbers are only part of the story. Another is how well-equipped we are to deal with grief, which can be particularly hard in some Hispanic communities. As Antonio Tejerino, President and CEO of The Hispanic Heritage Foundation, put it, “Asking for help or expressing sadness in our Latinx culture is often seen as a weakness as well as a burden on the family.”
Since grief is a common and natural experience, it’s all too easy to brush it aside. Yet, our response to grief can have long-term consequences, particularly for children. Studies show that grieving kids are at greater risk for academic decline, substance abuse, and other challenges.
But, difficult childhood experiences like grief also can lead to greater resilience and adaptability. It all depends on how we respond. And, that isn’t always easy. 71% of Hispanic adults say they’re unsure what to say or do when someone they care about is grieving, according to a recent Harris Poll. The good news is, there’s help.
My team has spent more than half-a-million hours supporting bereaved children, and we often hear from Latinx kids about the pressure they feel to take care of their family and keep their emotions in check. In a group discussion at a grief camp we run in California, for example, one 16-year-old girl shared her disappointment about not being able to go away from home for college. She felt that it was her responsibility to stay home and look after her mom and younger siblings, who were all struggling with their own grief after her dad died. She was frustrated that the expectations of her family were limiting her potential in life, yet she felt bound to those unwritten rules of her culture.
So, how can we honor the remarkable strengths in so many Hispanic homes while better supporting kids as they grieve? Below are suggestions that can make a positive difference:
- DO stop to think about the language we use with grieving children. Saying things like “be strong,” “make your mom proud,” and “your dad wouldn’t want you to cry” may think that their real feelings are not welcome or valid. This can lead kids to bottle up their feelings – and create an unnecessary distance between them and others in their lives.
- DON’T put pressure on kids to grow up too fast. Boys are often told they are “the man of the house” after a father has died. Girls are often expected to take on adult roles with younger siblings and carry the weight of responsibilities beyond their years. All kids, and particularly grieving children, need time to play and interact with their peers to deal with stress, connect socially and develop healthy coping skills.
- DO seek out a community of people who “get it.” Grief can be complicated and it can make kids feel alone. Being around other people who also have dealt with grief can help kids see that their feelings and fears are normal. For some, that means time with family, particularly siblings and cousins close to their age. Others may need to look outside their family to feel understood. There are many online and in-person communities of grieving people, such as Experience Camps for grieving children, The Dougy Center for resources in Spanish, and OptionB.org for adults, that are there to support and welcome you.
- DON’T be afraid to ask for help. If you or your child are struggling, seek out local grief support groups, school professionals, or a compassionate friend to talk to. If you’re afraid to jump all the way in, start with exploring blogs and communities online, such as Too Damn Young (for teens) and Modern Loss (for adults), plus grief resources like these. Grief can feel lonely, but you are not alone.
Together, we can ensure that all grieving children have the opportunity to develop strong coping skills and live a life rich with possibility.
Sara Deren is the founder and CEO of Experience Camps. Under her leadership, Experience Camps has conducted original research on the state of grief and launched 10 camp program sites from coast to coast with a waitlist that is growing 300% year over year. She received her MBA from Columbia, and blends her background of 12 years in finance and business with her passion for the mission.