We know the best moments in the classroom happen when children experience self-directed learning. When a child constructs his own understanding the greatest growth and efficacy take place. We work to create environments rich with choice and experimentation so children are able to investigate on their own terms. Similarly, we must give grieving children a sense of agency by providing a means for executing control over their own grief journeys. We assist children by interfacing the tenets of child led grief support with self-guided learning. When children are given the space to choose the timing and expression of their grief, they are more likely to cultivate healthy mourning. To serve children well we must be emotionally and fully present, provide multiple forms of self-expression, and accept messy moments with grace; messy feelings, messy reactions, messy timetables. Pain is messy.
A beautiful art teacher I know begins every session with children by saying, " The true sign of a really good day is the mess we make. The messier, the better!". That is her experiential truth. I believe this messy mantra applies to grief journeys. We have to wade around in the muck and mess of emotions to begin to make sense of it all. If we hold it all in, suppress or redirect pain, we risk emotional and physical turmoil. Children deserve and need these same grief freedoms. So we do our best if we partner with children and support them while they wade into murky emotional places. Often this feels scary, because we'd much prefer to protect children from what we view as over exposure to pain. We'd really rather try to order a child's grief by forcing him to engage in ways we think are best. But with grief, children know exactly how close they are willing to get to death, and it is our job to listen, sense and respond. Grief support is tentative, complicated and personal. It is just so messy.
I think what we need to do is accept messy, surrender to messy and welcome messy. Maybe we need to remember to be kind to ourselves and forgive ourselves when it feels overwhelming to support a bereaved child. Sometimes we have to make a mess of grief in order to learn how to live with it. For adults and children, self-directed learning may be the path to self-actualization, and the only way through. We have to allow children the same opportunities we would give ourselves to direct their own level of engagement when dealing with the death of someone close. One way to articulate your willingness to allow children the freedom to grieve is to create what Dr. Alan Wolfelt calls safe holding environments, places that allow children to feel safe to emote authentically and without judgement, without redirection, and just let the child lead. If given freedom to grieve on their own terms, children will only get as close to death as they need to; they will dose themselves and this will happen organically. We just need to stay out of their way, without over protecting, and not over sharing. We need to be honest with children about what has happened, and leave space for them to ask their own questions, and create places for children to express what is on their minds and in their hearts. If you can do this, you will allow a child will lead his grief journey. There will be messy days, but if we show a child we are patient and accepting of his unique needs to express his grief, we'll be nurturing his ability to mourn, then heal.
If you would like to learn more about how to companion a grieving child by promoting careful listening and observation, I encourage you to read Dr. Alan Wolfelt's Companioning the Grieving Child: A Soulful Guide for Caregivers. You can find this book on Amazon or link directly to The Center for Loss Bookstore:
Copyright (2015) Suzanne Bayer. All Rights Reserved.