Living and dying…it’s what we do each day. Not to be negative…but it is true. My son told me just the other day that we are dying each minute we are living…or “at least it is true for grown-ups” stated my truly honest son. (But aren’t they all honest? Most certainly…most of the time! 🙂 ) This fact is sad but true…so we need to make the most out of our days.
How do we make the most of our days? It is up to each of us. How we live each day is what makes us who we are and how we will be remembered. Everyone lives and dies differently. With the process of living and dying, grief may be different for those who are left behind. When I was an undergraduate student, my symposium course was called, Death, Dying, and World Religions. It was an amazing course that opened my eyes to living and dying because as an eighteen year old, I was of course invincible. I did learn about the common stages of grief according to the Kübler-Ross model. The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Does everyone grieve the same? No, each of us is unique. We may go back and forth throughout the stages, but we do experience them. This is also true for children, who are often forgotten or overlooked in the grieving process. This is where classroom teachers enter the picture. Children of all ages need to feel safe in their classrooms and be able to talk about and through their grief as needed.
Children should be embraced during the process of recovering from a loved one’s death so they too can heal emotionally. They need to be able to say good-bye. According to Pennells and Smith, “When a bereavement occurs, children go through the same range of emotions as adults, from feelings of shock, numbness, and despair to those of anger and guilt” (1995, p.9).
According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network in The Typical Grieving Process,
There is no right or wrong way to grieve, no “appropriate” length of time to experience grief following the death of an important person. The grieving process varies from child to child and changes as the child grows older. Children’s reactions to death depend upon the child’s age, developmental level, previous life experiences, emotional health before the death, and family and social environment. Common expected responses include:
- Emotional reactions such as sadness, anger, guilt, insecurity
- Changes in behavior such as aggression, loss of appetite, sleep problems
- Interpersonal difficulties such as social isolation, clinging, irritability
- Changes in thinking, including constant thoughts about the person,
preoccupation with death
- Altered perceptions including believing the deceased is still present,
dreaming about the person.
As an educator, what can we do to help children with grief?
- Encourage open communication. Be the ear to listen first and then the mouth to speak words of wisdom. Provide a safe environment for children to feel comfortable and open to experiencing and sharing their feelings.
- Be compassionate. Sometimes a hug or extra time is all they need. No matter what level of support children need, it is important for them to know that it is not their fault.
- Share resources. You don’t have to know it all, but you have to help find answers. Reach out to support services for help.
It is important to know that grief can last a long time, and children who may seem like they are no longer grieving may still be; they have just learned how to hide it or how to survive. Be the ongoing support that children need. ~Sonya
Until next time…
Perry, B.D., & Rubenstein, J. (n.d.). The child’s loss: Death, grief, and mourning. Retrieved
National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (2014). The typical grieving process. Retrieved
from: http://www.nctsn.org/trauma-types/traumatic-grief/typical-grieving- process
Pennells, M., & Smith, S. (1995). The forgotten mourners: Guidelines for working with
bereaved children. London: Jessica Kingsley.