My teachers had made various comments about how quiet and shy I appeared to be and they observed that I “always had my head in a book”. I underachieved my potential and, “Nicola is a capable girl but must try harder” was the staple phrase on my report cards. Outwardly I appeared to be a happy normal child but inside I was deeply traumatised by a homelife blighted by repeated exposure to domestic violence.
Traumatised children who live with repeated exposure to abuse may not be as apparent as a child who suffers a time specific loss, such as, death of a pet or divorcing grandparents. The problem with this type of chronic trauma is that it is the ‘norm’ for that child and furthermore they may not even realise that they are living in an abusive environment. The author, Dame Jacqueline Wilson has spoken recently about her childhood experiences, “If you’d asked me as I was growing up was I happy, I’d have said yes, and been absolutely certain I was. If I was sometimes nervous or anxious, which I was, I would have thought it was my fault.”
Jacqueline witnessed countless arguments between her two unhappy parents and whilst her father never hit her, her mother slapped her and she lived in constant fear of their raging and verbal abuse.
A traumatised child such as myself may try their best to blend into the background and activities such as reading are perfect ways for a child to escape real life. The problem was I thought that everybody lived like me and indeed in the 1970’s domestic violence was not only prevalent but domestic violence (especially towards men) was the source of great humour. Television and newspaper cartoon strips showed the depiction of violence as an acceptable method of conflict resolution with the rolling pin or frying pan appearing to be the preferred weapon of choice. For me, the classroom was a haven, it was the safest place in the world to be and my teachers (unknown to them) were providing the much needed calm positive role modeling that was sadly lacking in my home life.
Unlike a physical injury such as a broken leg or a grazed knee, mental health issues and broken hearts often exist unseen and unheard and as a consequence have coined the phrase ‘the invisible injury’ Low self-esteem and negative thoughts can often deter a child from reaching out for help and although great steps have been made to empower children such as online support, ‘Childline’ and anti-bullying campaigns, for a child with low self-esteem issues and negative thoughts there exists the distinct possibility that they may not feel worthy enough to reach out and furthermore, they may have learnt not to express how they feel as a survival/coping mechanism. It is helpful for teaching staff to have the mindset that, “it could happen in my classroom” and even if children do not obviously present with behavioural concerns it is better to air on the side of caution and remain vigilant.
In my work as a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist I have learnt that all children are grievers and all children suffer loss of one kind or another. Thank goodness that lots of children live in safe happy homes but even these children will experience loss events at some point. The good news is that the guidance for supporting grievers is the same regardless of the loss event and remember we never compare losses! Grief is felt in the heart and regardless of the loss all grievers grieve 100 percent.
There is no such thing as a half grief.
If you would like to feel more confident about talking to parents and children about loss please get in touch with me firstname.lastname@example.org My courses run regularly at Pownall Hall School or get in touch via my portal page http://www.independentschoolsportal.org/nicola-clifford.html You can find information on availability for your school to participate in my six week `Helping Children Deal With Loss` course in which I can accomodate up to 15 members of staff either in your own setting or here in the beautiful grounds of Pownall Hall School, Cheshire. If you have any comments or questions about this article please leave them in the comments box or hit the `like` button for your feedback is very much appreciated.