Updated: May 8
By: Kimberly Harrison, Ph.D
Children who never before knew of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II are mourning her death. Why is that? Why are some sad and others worried? And what can parents and teachers do to help?
The grassroots communication system of children is amazing. Playground chatter is filled with interesting and new tidbits of information which children often repeat to each other and to their families. Classrooms provide a platform for discussing current events. So, even if your child has never before heard about Queen Elizabeth II, or if you’ve never mentioned her death, they could be grieving. Psychologist, Urie Bronfenbrenner, created a theory of child development called The Ecological Systems Theory (later called the Bioecolgical Model) which suggests that children learn, grow and develop within several systems of influence, and the interaction of these systems shapes their worldview and emotional responses.
The Microsystem represents the child’s immediate world. It generally is comprised of family, friends, classmates and others with whom the child interacts on a regular basis.
The Mesosystem describes how the different members of the microsystem interact and how that impacts the child. For example, parents and teachers are both in the Microsystem. If they collaborate and have regular interaction, then it often helps the child. If they rarely interact or send opposing messages, then this mesosystem can have a negative impact on the child.
The Exosystem is comprised of those social structures which in one way or another impact a child and/or members of their smaller systems. This can include neighborhoods, parent’s workplaces and mass media. This is where many “hidden influences” lie.
The Macrosystem represents how cultural elements impact a child. Everything from socioeconomic status to ethnicity to geographic location.
Finally, the Chronosystem represents the changes in the child’s life over time which impact their development, such as moving to a new home, changing schools, parent’s divorcing, and the like.
Often parents and teachers focus on their own piece of a child’s world – the Microsystem – and are baffled when the child reacts to outside information. But remember the Exosystem! When the beloved Queen Elizabeth II passed away on September 8, 2022, the news spread like wildfire. Many classrooms discussed the news as it was breaking. Playground talk was filled with concepts of royalty, old age, and death. And, of course, each child has a different perspective on those things. Some are in awe of how long she ruled, others came face-to-face with the concept of death for the first time. Images of people around the world crying, businesses closing, and talk of the world never being the same again impacted children. Maybe your child.
So, what do you do?
First, take cues from your child. If they are not talking about it and you don’t notice any emotional and/or behavior changes, then you don’t have to do anything out of the ordinary.
Secondly, if they are talking about the news, then follow up based on what they are most interested in. Talk to them on their level. If they are asking about what will happen to the world, then discuss how many things change but we keep going, and that you are there for your child. In the end, they want to know “how will this affect me?” If they are overly concerned about death and loss, then talk with them about how loss can hurt and it’s OK to cry and be sad. Then help them do something to remember the good things about the person. In this case, maybe they could put together a tribute to the Queen.
Whatever you do, listen to your child and focus on what has impacted them. You don’t have to overreact, but acknowledging their feelings will help them feel heard and less stressed. Most importantly, you will be helping them learn how to effectively deal with whatever comes next.