How to help kids cope with grief
Loss and grief are always difficult emotions for everyone, adults and children alike. As school counselors, we are in an especially challenging position since we are expected to be a resource to others while we can be equally affected and emotional about the situation. When faced with the death of a student, a teacher or someone related to a student or teacher, what can you do? Here are some suggestions:
- Try to move the discussion from what happened and why it happened to a more personal and more positive means of coping with the tragic situation. You might say something about how we all know about the tragic death of our friend and classmate and that while we know a lot of details about what happened and how it happened, there are a lot of things that we will never know or understand and speculating about them doesn’t help make the situation better for anybody. You might mention that often bad things happen to good people and while we can’t go back in time and change what happened, what we can do is remember the good things, the things that we will miss about our classmate. Then allow some time for students to express their memories and share some emotions.
- Next, talk about the grief process and what they can expect to feel over time; sadness, anger maybe even fear or anxiety. Normalize those feelings and suggest that they find someone they can trust to talk to when they have those feelings. Ask students to give examples of who they can talk to and offer your services as well.
- Point out that often times when someone dies it reminds each of us of losses in our own lives and causes us to grieve again for those losses. Ask if anyone has found themselves thinking about other sad situations in their own lives and felt themselves grieving over them again. Allow some time to talk about those related situations.
- Point out that sometimes kids feel that because something bad happened to someone else, it must mean that something bad will happen to them. However, events are not connected in that way. Reassure them in whatever way is appropriate to the situation that they can feel safe.
- Finally, address the fact that often when something bad happens, we feel guilty that we didn’t in some way see it coming or prevent it from happening but that again, the best thing that we can do is to give ourselves credit for doing the best we can in each and every situation we are in. Remind them that rather than regretting something they didn’t do in the past, the best we can do now is to be sure to care for and support each other as we grieve in the present. Have students give examples of what they need and would appreciate receiving from others as they grieve this loss.
Need more ideas? Here is a website with lots of grief resources.
My all time favorite book to use with individual students who are grieving is, Marc Brown’s When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death. It outlines and explains everything from what to expect at a funeral to the many emotions a child might experience.
Another excellent book is, Grandad Bill’s Song, by Jane Yolen. It is a lovely sensitive book about each family member’s memories of Grandad Bill after his death. This book could be easily used with a grief group and followed with an activity where group members discuss memories of loved ones.
Stuff Parents Want to Know: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
In twenty years of school counseling I’ve been asked a lot of questions. This eBook is a compilation of some of the most common ones along with some effective strategies and books you can read with your child to address the problem.
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