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Teen Grief in School

 

All losses must be mourned in their own way. Educators need to know how to react to different crisis situations. An illness and a car accident would require different responses. The school killings in Mississippi, Kentucky, Arkansas, Pennsylvania or Colorado would demand a different protocol, one that would call for intense student and faculty intervention and for involvement from professionals in the community.

Adolescents are affected by loss in different ways.

  • Adolescence is a time of identity formation. Loss must be affirmed as it uniquely impacts the individual adolescent. There may be a heightened sense of aloneness. Intense anger may be triggered if a loss interrupts life as it begins to be felt in an independent way. There may be a sense of being cheated.
  • Adolescents believe that nothing can happen to them. Loss brings on intense shock.
  • Adolescents prioritize physical presentation and peer relationships. Alteration of either is extremely frightening and needs specific attention.
  • Adolescents are very self-conscious. He/she may suffer embarrassment and guilt over a loss. They will censor feelings viewed as socially unacceptable.

Educators need to offer acceptance of a wide variety of feelings. Encourage the peer group to show their reassurance and acceptance. Confidentiality can be important to adolescents who fear rejection from peers because of a loss incident.

Teachers need to be aware of cruel comments and behaviors of classmates of sick children or children who have had a loss. They need to isolate negative behaviors and teach appropriate, compassionate responses. Allow children to wear a cap to school in order to support and make less noticeable the child whose hair is lost due to cancer treatment. Some high school students shave their hair to show support for their teacher who had shaved his head when his wife lost her hair during chemotherapy.

Educators need to reach out to these students, as they tend to pull away in search of independence. Schools can help students find ways to express their feelings after a classmate or teacher dies. They can teach proper funeral and family visitation etiquette. Teachers can also help to provide culturally appropriate practices.

Many teens think they honor the person by staying the entire two-hour visitation. They will often pass adults in line to speak to the family or crowd together around the casket. It is helpful if a few school personnel are present at family visitations and funerals. Teens often attend these services without parental support and many need the support of a familiar adult.

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Be aware of the students who are having the greatest difficulty with the loss and may need to be monitored for inappropriate grief responses later. Adolescents may express feelings in dangerous or unhealthy ways. Teaching coping skills as options to unwise displays of aggression, to acting out, to excessive withdrawal, to recklessness, to apathy, to the use of substances, to sexual experimentation- all common adolescent choices for handling grief.

Peer support groups facilitated by trained school counselors can be an excellent preventive program for the bereaved student who has lost a parent. They learn the importance of sharing feelings, but they find they are not alone. This has been helpful for students in finding desire in going on with life. They become less embarrassed when expressing emotion and learn that adults can be supportive of them. They also learn that each has their own grief reaction with unique timetables.

  • A child can only resolve loss if someone recognizes the loss.
  • Learning is affected by loss, therefore must be dealt with.
  • All educators including bus drivers, crossing guards, lunch workers, the media specialist, the custodian, the principal all can play a part in meeting the needs of a grieving student.
  • Listening to the child is key.
  • As we listen and support students we can help them make meaning of their loss.
  • Educators can assist students as they make adjustments to new situations created by the loss. Such as: allowing a class to make decisions about an empty desk in the classroom, allowing students to create a yearbook page in the year book about a deceased student, to allow students to choose to cancel all sport games on the day of a student’s or educator’s funeral, all can help them to feel more control.

A variety of teen activities that facilitate healing: (these are only a few examples)

these are only a few examples)
  • Writing
  • Read an inspirational book about someone you admire,
  • Being with friends, take in a funny movie, go to a zoo,
  • Crying or screaming, punching a pillow, take kick boxing classes
  • Helping others, volunteer at a soup kitchen or be a big brother/sister
  • Praying, finger paint, skate, pick flowers, buy yourself a gift
  • Creative projects, memory books and collages
  • Getting involved in school and other activities
  • Having alone time, listen to music, watch a movie, take in a new band
  • Art, daydream, visit a chat room for teens who are grieving,
  • Hugging, work for a cause, dance, watch the sun set,
  • Joining a support group
  • Getting further counseling
  • Writing letters and journaling
  • Exercising, go for a hike, a swim, take a yoga class, learn to meditate

  • A child can only resolve loss if someone recognizes the loss.
  • Learning is affected by loss, therefore must be dealt with.
  • All educators including bus drivers, crossing guards, lunch workers, the media specialist, the custodian, the principal all can play a part in meeting the needs of a grieving student.
  • Listening to the child is key.
  • As we listen and support students we can help them make meaning of their loss.
  • Educators can assist students as they make adjustments to new situations created by the loss. Such as: allowing a class to make decisions about an empty desk in the classroom, allowing students to create a yearbook page in the year book about a deceased student, to allow students to choose to cancel all sport games on the day of a student’s or educator’s funeral, all can help them to feel more control.

A variety of teen activities that facilitate healing: (these are only a few examples)

these are only a few examples)
  • Writing
  • Read an inspirational book about someone you admire,
  • Being with friends, take in a funny movie, go to a zoo,
  • Crying or screaming, punching a pillow, take kick boxing classes
  • Helping others, volunteer at a soup kitchen or be a big brother/sister
  • Praying, finger paint, skate, pick flowers, buy yourself a gift
  • Creative projects, memory books and collages
  • Getting involved in school and other activities
  • Having alone time, listen to music, watch a movie, take in a new band
  • Art, daydream, visit a chat room for teens who are grieving,
  • Hugging, work for a cause, dance, watch the sun set,
  • Joining a support group
  • Getting further counseling
  • Writing letters and journaling
  • Exercising, go for a hike, a swim, take a yoga class, learn to meditate

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