How do you help a child who’s grieving? Therapist and expert Linda Goldman discusses this issue with Dr. Heidi Horsley at the 2015 Association for Death Education and Counseling conference. Goldman works with schools around the country, helping them to help their students. The best thing schools can do is realize that this loss is something that will last for a long time—perhaps forever. School systems have to be accountable for the grieving child, much like schools are accountable for students with learning disabilities. Unfortunately, schools often think children will “get over it,” which isn’t the case.
Grieving children need interventions, recommendations, and caring, which can be in short supply, especially after the initial grieving period. Her book, Life and Loss, features a child loss inventory for schools that outlines exactly what schools need in order to provide the best care for children in grief. Schools need to document the following: This is a grieving child, the when, how, where and why. Schools need to be able to track a child throughout K-12 and know that this is a grieving child.
Schooled in Grief
Goldman gives an example of a child, Max, who’s getting ready to play in his last basketball game of the season. When his coach asked where his dad was, Max says he had to work, but the reality is his dad died a year ago. The school had failed to communicate that this was a grieving child to all parties. Schools need to speak to parents and build a grief community team.
Finally, common behavioral characteristics (impulsivity, concentration issues, etc.) are present but are too often used as a checklist to track disorders. Remember that a lot of symptoms are actually common reactions to loss.