Dr. Gloria Horsley talks with Anthony Morelli of Peter’s Place. A licensed social worker, he works with bereaved children near Philadelphia. Peter’s Place serves children and families who have experienced a death—usually of a parent or sibling. When there’s a loss, it affects the entire community including the school. Children need a safe, consistent environment. After a death, routines are no longer maintained, and school can be a safe, consistent place for children.
How to interact with a child is a big challenge. A lot of the time, it’s showing and mentioning that you care. Let children take the lead if and when they want to talk about their loss. Teachers often don’t know what to say, and Morelli as well as Peter’s Place work closely with the schools. It’s a distressing situation for families, and organizations like Peter’s Place can help re-introduce stability.
A Community Effort
The school, family, and community need to work together to ensure the child moves toward a healing place. Morelli recommends letting the child make the decisions about healing. Let them know you’re available, but also respect their needs and wishes. The child is the expert in their own grief situation, and they can teach you what they need. Many children choose to play or be creative to express grief, and it’s not always common for children to want to talk.
However, adults are quick to worry when children don’t seem to “grieve like they’re supposed to.” Forcing children to talk can backfire. Some children do benefit from professional counseling, group work, or other resources available at organizations like Peter’s Place. Listen to the grieving child, as they’ll likely tell you what they need to find affirmation in this traumatic time.