Helping Children with Loss

When children grieve, honesty is the best policy…

“Monkey see, monkey do”. Did you ever wonder why a child may not be reacting to a situation the way we expect? Perhaps we should think about the life lessons they’ve been taught. By the age of 16 a child will have heard unhelpful information on grief and loss on average 15,000 times. If parents and caregivers act strong and show no emotion when talking to a child about a tough loss or difficult event, the child will do the same.

Given that we teach children to read and write and everything we can to prepare them for life, do we talk to them or adequately prepare them for loss? Society teaches us how to acquire things, not what to do when we lose them. It’s no fault of our own that we mirror the behaviour and beliefs we’ve been taught that have been handed down through the generations.

Holding back a quiet sob, Miranda knocked gently on the door of Mrs Hall. She was barely taller than the door handle, yet felt sure this door opened to some kindness and a friendly face. Mrs Hall in pastoral care had clearly done a good job of letting the children know why she was there. It was break time and Miranda was missing the company of her best friend and playmate Jessica who was absent from school today. Opening the door, the kindly Mrs Hall looked down and asked Miranda why she was crying. Explaining between sobs that she was missing her best friend, especially at playtime, Mrs Hall took her by the hand saying “come on, let’s go and find Rachel to play with.”

They’re the actions any caring concerned teacher would have taken to fix the problem, right?

But Miranda spent playtime looking sad and glum with Rachel unwilling to join in the game of unicorns and fairies. Why? Because she was grieving and hadn’t had her emotional needs met. She knew she felt bad and was missing Jessica but no-one stopped to hear her pain. Miranda needed to have her story heard

Unwittingly Mrs Hall instilled one of the biggest myths in grief and loss………that is, when something bad happens, replace the loss with something else! In this situation Jessica was replaced with Rachel.

At GR we’d encourage you to do things a little differently. A better approach would be to ask; “What happened to make you so sad, I know that Jessica’s your closest friend and you play together every day. I can see that you’d be sad when she’s missing from school. Would you like to tell me about the things you do with Jessica at playtime? Miranda is encouraged to tell her story and begins to feel better as she talks about how she feels….

Had the story played out like this, the outcome would likely have been a little different.

What would you have done next? Do you feel prepared to have discussions about sad and painful feelings with the children in your care? Are we armed with information to make our next generation emotionally resilient?

Bereavement, divorce, pet loss, moving home or the simple example of the loss for a day of a playmate are only a few of the losses our children will experience during their lives. Grief is the normal and natural reaction to significant emotional loss of any kind. Our children deserve our best help to manoeuvre this confusing arena. Let’s help them with open honesty and some up to date information.

Over the course of a childs school life, 1 in 29 of all children will be bereaved of a parent or sibling, historically 111 children are bereaved every day and with the current Covid pandemic these numbers are growing significantly.

Extensive research has shown that Child bereavement causes reduced self esteem and and causes under achievement (The Butterfly project).

Helping children with loss is an acclaimed educational programme ran over 4 weekly 1.5 to 2 hour sessions. Established for over 30 years, it increases confidence and gives a structure for talking to a child who has experienced a loss of any kind. Using a structured approach, this ACE’s informed programme will teach you to identify the symptoms and behaviours caused by grief and loss and be equipped knowing what to say and not to say to parents who are also grieving. Let us arm you with the skills to talk confidently about difficult and painful feelings.

Buckton Vale Head Teacher Deb Brown is convinced that anyone working with children should complete the Helping children with loss programme.” We now have 14 staff members who have carried out the HCWL course. It dispels myths so engrained in modern society and gives ideas on how we can actively support young people through their losses such as divorce, pet loss.