Right now across the country children and teachers are either returning to school, or trying to squeeze in the last little bit of summer fun before Labor Day passes. When I was a child I always loved the first day of school. It was exhilarating! I welcomed the fresh start, the clean slate, and I counted on a new chance each year to balance the rule-bound side of me with the part longing to color outside the lines...politely. My report cards read like politically correct agreements between praise and concern:
"Suzie works well with others, she's always considerate of those around her. She is creative, her work is above average. But she is often dreamy and distracted."
I had a lot going on at home. I had a sick mother, and then she died. I wasn't talking with any adults about it, so yes, I was distracted. It was hard to stay focused in school with all the questions and worries going on inside of me. And as the years passed after the death, I wasn't sure if my teachers even knew my story. They never talked to me about it. My mom's death was a sad little secret I tucked away out of sight so I could try to be like everybody else. I was fortunate, my teachers were warm hearted and my friends were kind. That helped a lot. But it would have helped more if the adults at school talked to me about my mother dying. And because I did not feel safe to grieve at school and at home, I hauled a lot of emotional baggage along with me through life. When I was an adult I began searching for answers to the questions I longed to unpack and put away. Now I understand childhood bereavement, and at long last I am able to integrate my great loss into my own life. What's more, I've got an action item on my educator list. I want healthy grief support to happen early and often in the schools, and I have a relevant message for adults working with children.
Teachers, as you begin each new school year I urge you to add childhood grief support skills to your own list of action items. My story happened years ago, but it is the same one for many children who walk through the doors of your classroom. (The data indicates 7 out of 10 educators will be teaching a recently bereaved child this year.) Some children are carrying grief from a death of someone close, and you will not find this information in records or introductory materials. Best practice dictates we work to know our students as fully as we can so we may holistically and effectively provide instruction. We know healthy teacher/student/family relationships take time, often we are not able to make meaningful connections until well into the school year. This year, ask the adults in the lives of the children you teach if their child has EVER experienced the death of someone close. Add this question to your intake forms. Grief does not go away, even if we omit it from registration materials. Instead, it clings to us like an emotional barnacle and shapes who we are as we try to grow up, integrate loss into our lives and become alive again. Kids need the death of someone loved to be named, acknowledged, and spoken with no imposed expiration date. The purposeful and intentional teacher will be able to wholeheartedly teach and nurture a child if she knows his entire story. Be part of a grieving child's fresh new chance at healthy grief growth supported at school.
Copyright (2014) Suzanne Bayer. All Rights Reserved.