When I graduated from high school, I never intended on going back. Then 13 years later, I found myself walking the halls of someone else’s high school thinking about that period of my own life that was so fraught with darkness. But this time my role was different. I was different.
I was a mental health practitioner preparing curriculum for an after school grief group within the high school mental health program where I worked. My role was to plan lessons and co-facilitate the group with my supervisor, a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW). When one student was referred to the grief group because of her father’s military deployment, I remember initially not understanding what deployment had to do with grief and loss. That quickly changed as facilitating the after school grief group provided a whole new awareness of how different grief and loss can look for a teen.
After finishing up my role as co-facilitator of the high school grief group and as my years working in the mental health program began to accumulate, I began to realize many of the youth I was surrounded by daily were grieving. Not only were they grieving, they were hungry for acknowledgement of their loss. They wanted validation of their pain.
All key players need to be on the same page when it comes to the many emotions youth experience in connection to grief. Who are these pivotal players? Not only are they the parents and caretakers of the grieving children and teens, but also educators and other key adults in the lives of youth. Every year, our educators in the public education system spend roughly 180 days and approximately around 1,000 hours with our children. For many children, the time spent with their classroom teacher accumulates to more time then the time they spend with their own parents. For many children in the foster care system for example, or for those with an incarcerated parent, their schools and their teachers become the one constant in their lives.
Grieving children have more academic barriers than their peers who are not experiencing grief. Many of my students impacted by grief and loss also struggled academically. Like the students themselves who may be unaware of their own grieving, many teachers are left in the dark about who their grieving students are. Many may not know grief and loss experiences can connect to other life experiences such as parental divorce, incarceration of a loved one, parental deployment and foster care placement. Unfortunately, due to shame and stigma that can surround the specific grief situation of a child or teen, they may not tell their teachers out of fear or embarrassment. Even when the teacher does know the situation, they might not quite know what to do to support their student.
Do you know who the grieving youth are in your life? Do you know common grief reactions of children and teens? In my last blog post, you’ll find an infographic highlighting grief reactions of children and teens impacted by the five experiences death, divorce, incarceration, parental deployment and foster care. What you’ll also find, is that most of the grief reactions are identical. In my research, I continue to find a scarcity of information on how to serve grieving youth impacted by grief and loss outside of death. In my opinion, death is only one aspect of a much larger issue.
In my search for information, I’ve come across a series of videos on Military Kids Connect, a great resource geared toward military children, teens, parents, and educators. Although these videos are geared towards parents and caregivers of youth grieving the loss of a loved one, in my opinion, these videos also express very clearly the grief reactions of children and teens due to the effects of divorce, incarceration, and foster care placement. In the videos Dr. Mogil, a licensed clinical psychologist and Director of Training and Intervention Development at The Nathanson Family Resilience Center, highlights grief reactions in both children and tween/teens.
Do you want to know what you can do to help children and teens cope with grief and loss? The Dougy Center, nationally known for their work with children and grieving families highlights coping strategies for children and teens.
November 19th is Children’s Grief Awareness Day and I want to help bridge the gaps for educators and adults working with youth impacted by grief and loss. As this day is mainly geared to highlight children and teens impacted by the death of a loved one, my goal is to generate a much larger conversation.
On November 19th, I will be hosting a twitter chat to discuss best practices when working with grieving youth. For the next two weeks leading up to Children’s Grief Awareness Day, I will be posting more information and highlighting our campaign using the hashtag #Grief5. You can see images from the hashtag campaign on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram here.
What can you do? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment below AND join on me November 19th for the twitter chat! In the meantime, use our hashtag #Grief5 to share our information, start your own conversation, and follow our campaign for updates. You can find us on Facebook at The Alliance for Positive Youth Development and The SISGI Group. On Twitter we are @NotEnoughGood and @Ideas4youth. We are also @Youth4change on Instagram.
What initially began as one grief group experience has turned into a lifetime mission for me. This campaign is a result of my students, who allowed me into their space. It is through their gifts I’ve learned to be curious, to ask questions instead of pass judgments. It is through their actions and from their words I’ve learned to set the bar high, to never take “no” or “I don’t know” for an answer, and to never give up on them. I invite you to be a part of this effort.