Adults are horrible at discussing and processing death. We don’t know how to talk about it or grant others the ability to talk about it. Mostly to avoid our own discomfort. The message is that grieving is something to do privately. Preferably in a brief period. And for God’s sake, don’t be messy about it, either. It’s best if no one is made to feel sad or uncomfortable because of your pain. God forbid someone cries or wails in public. Nothing causes squirminess and discomfort like someone crying. When children cry adults, frequently, immediately try to get it to stop. I am guilty of doing this with my own child and students. The compulsion to “fix” the cause is like a twitch.

Grief is complicated and illogical. It doesn’t happen linearly. Grief and loss comes in waves, bursts and lingers like think fog. Describing it is difficult. Our senses are affected. Smells, tastes and colors aren’t the same. Depending on the depth of grief, sometimes are never the same, again.

How do we support children and teach them how to understand and articulate their own grief?

In Allies, we explored types of grief and what was supportive. Often the first experience with death in childhood is with a pet. My students expressed sadness and loss about all sorts of pets, from cats and dogs to Beta fish. Some of these pets belonged to family members, like a grandparent or an aunt, which didn’t diminish their grief. The pain expressed ranged from recent losses to long ago. The level of loss wasn’t any different. A few students had just lost family members. A handful shared grief for the recent death of a school mate. A couple students shared their loss for relatives the never got to know, who died when they were very young.

What this conversation demonstrated is that they don’t always have a safe place to share grief. Or know what to do with it. Time continues to pass, and people stop checking in. Which can send the message to keep your grief to yourself. Often, support is in an over-abundance immediately following a death. We are good at jumping into action during a crisis but not so good with long term support. Finding opportunities to initiate conversations about grief can lesson the shock that death is a natural part of life. Tragedy happens. Acknowledging that fact is important.

Offer a way to express grief and a way to honor the loss is grounding. Paint or draw a picture. Make a stepping stone with that loved one in mind. Plant a tree together. Nature is a wonderful way to talk about cycles of death. Light a candle and share memories and experiences for those who have died. Keep the joy and connection of them alive within your hearts.

We painted wooden boxes to celebrate the memories and heart connections. Students supported each other, listened intently and compassionately. They shared what phrases and actions eased their grief. They cried and laughed together. Held hands and hugged. Or leaned into one another, shoulder to shoulder. Most importantly, students learned that they are not alone.

Adults are horrible at discussing and processing death. We don’t know how to talk about it or grant others the ability to talk about it. Mostly to avoid our own discomfort. The message is that grieving is something to do privately. Preferably in a brief period. And for God’s sake, don’t be messy about it, either. It’s best if no one is made to feel sad or uncomfortable because of your pain. God forbid someone cries or wails in public. Nothing causes squirminess and discomfort like someone crying. When children cry adults, frequently, immediately try to get it to stop. I am guilty of doing this with my own child and students. The compulsion to “fix” the cause is like a twitch.

Greif is complicated and illogical. It doesn’t happen linearly. Grief and loss comes in waves, bursts and lingers like think fog. Describing it is difficult. Our senses are affected. Smells, tastes and colors aren’t the same. Depending on the depth of grief, sometimes are never the same, again.

How do we support children and teach them how to understand and articulate their own grief?

In Allies, we explored types of grief and what was supportive. Often the first experience with death in childhood is with a pet. My students expressed sadness and loss about all sorts of pets, from cats and dogs to Beta fish. Some of these pets belonged to family members, like a grandparent or an aunt, which didn’t diminish their grief. The pain expressed ranged from recent losses to long ago. The level of loss wasn’t any different. A few students had just lost family members. A handful shared grief for the recent death of a school mate. A couple students shared their loss for relatives the never got to know, who died when they were very young.

What this conversation demonstrated is that they don’t always have a safe place to share grief. Or know what to do with it. Time continues to pass, and people stop checking in. Which can send the message to keep your grief to yourself. Often, support is in an over-abundance immediately following a death. We are good at jumping into action during a crisis but not so good with long term support. Finding opportunities to initiate conversations about grief can lesson the shock that death is a natural part of life. Tragedy happens. Acknowledging that fact is important.

Offer a way to express grief and a way to honor the loss is grounding. Paint or draw a picture. Make a stepping stone with that loved one in mind. Plant a tree together. Nature is a wonderful way to talk about cycles of death. Light a candle and share memories and experiences for those who have died. Keep the joy and connection of them alive within your hearts.

We painted wooden boxes to celebrate the memories and heart connections. Students supported each other, listened intently and compassionately. They shared what phrases and actions eased their grief. They cried and laughed together. Held hands and hugged. Or leaned into one another, shoulder to shoulder. Most importantly, students learned that they are not alone.

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