It can be difficult to determine what the 'right' response is to a grief event, and in the case of children, it may not be apparent that a grief event has happened at all. Many people associate the word grief only with physical death. There is a much broader definition that we teach and it is a definition that encompasses all loss experiences:“Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by a change or an end in a familiar pattern of behaviour” For many children `pet loss` is likely to be one of their first experiences of grief, the loss however may have occurred through divorcing grandparents or a shift in domestic arrangements, it can even be challenging finances that incur the loss.
Children may have seen confronting scenes for example in 'death of a pet' they may have found the body, if we are lucky enough to identify a grief event has occurred, a helpful response is to ask, “What happened?” For many of us it is at this point we might lose confidence in how to respond, the good news is, it is most helpful to listen. Active listening provides an outlet and release for the emotional pressure that can build up inside us, it is a precious gift we provide if we can listen without judgement criticism or analysis.
When a grief event occurs people react in very different ways, some people begin an immediate review of the relationship and recount every detail of events, seemingly over and over again, their perspective swaying from side to side. A positive approach can be decided only to be followed immediately by a crash of energy and in an instant they plunge into a sea of negativity. Other people may consider in silent contemplation what has transpired and it may not be apparent that the grieving process has begun but amazingly all these reactions are natural and normal.
Here is a list of the six myths or the things you should avoid saying in a sharing scenario:
1 - Don`t feel bad
2 - Replace the loss (e.g., get a new dog)
3 - Grieve alone
4 - Be strong
5 - Keep busy
6 - Time heals all wounds
It can be very difficult in a busy school day to give our full
attention to a child who chooses 'that moment' to talk about their
Grandma's funeral or how sad they feel that their Mummy has had to
go and look after Grandpa, developing an ethos of
understanding and recognising the importance of these opportunities is
Firstly, we should not underestimate how difficult it has been for a child to pluck up the courage to speak out and an unhelpful comment such as, “Don`t worry she will be back soon” or “Go and play it will take your mind off it” can do more harm than good.
Secondly, active listening requires our full attention, it cannot be achieved
whilst we carry on with our 'jobs'. Eye contact and positive facial expressions
demonstrate to the child that they are being heard and they have not only
done the right thing, but they were right to trust you.
Some children may never initiate this type of conversation, though we can help things along by saying, “I'm concerned about you … is everything ok?” or “How are things with you
today?” and there will always be the children who just cannot verbalise feelings at all. There are many reasons why children cannot verbalise their feelings but that does not mean their grief is invisible.
Short Term Energy Relieving Behaviours (STERBS) may present themselves instead. STERBS are numerous and can range from constant desk tidying and OCD type
behaviours to regression and acting out. In any event it is not only the
children who may present but also the parents!
Nicola is delivering a keynote talk and training workshop at the middle and senior leaders in education meeting at Pownall Hall School on the 7th March 2019. This event open to all schools and is FREE OF CHARGE (including lunch and refreshments).