There are many ways to help children deal with grief. Losing anyone or anything is especially difficult for children. Losing a loved one is most difficult, but loss is experienced by children who are losing a family unit to divorce, for example. Adults, of course, regularly experience loss and from losing a childhood pet, we learn how to manage our emotions in a healthy way, for the most part.
As adults, we must model the normal bereavement process for children. Ceremonies, and chances to aknowlege our loss is important. We must allow them to experience their emotions. Anger is a fairly common problem. What I saw in my students was anger displaced onto one another, or onto those closest to us in families. Children awake in the morning, and experience that sense of grief as they realize daddy will not be there to drive them to school. Then, they cannot find their favourite running shoes. Mom nags to hurry faster. Slowly, but surely, that bottle of emotions is over flowing and the emotions become displaced upon the people around us. A sister who takes too long in the bathroom. The more tired, hungry, or sick kids are, the more they are affected by emotions.
Who else would we lash out at, but those with whom normal interactions become places where grief and anger can rise to the surface. We need to find healthy ways for kids to relieve these emotions. For some, music or art, or exercise, helps assuage our grief.
I worked with Expressive Arts Therapist, Elke Scholz, on an 8-week Bereavement group with children in Muskoka. It was a powerful experience!
Making a collage in honour to a loved one.
Creating a poem, or a song.
One of my students wrote a eulogy for a grandparent. I helped her to write down what she felt, and the ways in which her poppa was an integral part of her life. The Catholic priest would not permit her to read it during the service, but she did read it at the wake. Everyone in the class grieved a little that day, and felt the better for it. Mom turned up to take her to the funeral and we all gave her a hug.
Kübler-Ross wrote about the five stages of grief:
denial, bargaining, depression, anger, acceptance are all inter-related. In her later years she reflected more about these stages, and recognized that they are not sequential, nor linear, nor do we move through them at the same speed, in the same way, nor are we ever finished grieving.
Often, in the school system in which I taught, when a teacher passed away unexpectedly, staff would be anxious to attend the funeral. Teachers from various near-by schools would then cover for those, combining classes, and sharing the burden. During these times we then re-experienced our own grief and the losses we had felt in our own lives.
Elke Scholz work in expressive arts- photos from the group
1. Respect their needs to talk or to be silent.
2. Deal with the issues as they arise. Talk to the Trauma Response team if you have students who are directly affected.
3. Listen to their concerns.
4. Let them you know you are upset, too.
5. Model the means by which you deal with your grief.
6. Do not tell them the answers if you do not know the answers.
7. Clear up faulty misperceptions, if they arise. (During 9/11 kids were afraid to walk home. Kids were afraid for their pets, relatives, etc.)
8. Have them talk to their parents about their feelings. Parents need to know.
9. Let them tell their stories. Draw pictures, create poems, write letters.
10. Make a fear box. Cut out pictures from newspapers & magazines that represent their fears.
11. Write down your fears. Assign them a number from 1 - 5. have them talk about these fears with their families.
12. Help others. Give a donation to one of the relief agencies.
This video demonstrates how emotions are bottled up inside. By adding a kind word, a kindred spirit, or a listening ear, we can help others deal with grief in their own way, in their own time.
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Happy to have been a teacher.
In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less, because passing civilization along from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honor and the highest responsibility anyone could have. -Lee Iacocca, automobile executive (b. 1924)
"Ignorance is not knowing. Stupidity is the active pursuit of ignorance"
This blog is based on my 25 years as a teacher in Ottawa, and a couple of years with NNDSB. I have time to reflect and put my experiences and opinions out there for others. Teaching is a collective experience, best shared. Visit my resume for more about my teaching background and credentials.