Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss...

of 25 /25
1 Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Title: Children and Grief: Information for School Counselors The accompanying research report is submitted to the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Graduate School in partial completion of the requirements for the Graduate Degree/ Major: MS School Counseling Research Adviser: Carol Johnson, Ph.D. Submission Term/Year: Fall, 2012 Number of Pages: 25 Style Manual Used: American Psychological Association, 6 th edition I understand that this research report must be officially approved by the Graduate School and that an electronic copy of the approved version will be made available through the University Library website I attest that the research report is my original work (that any copyrightable materials have been used with the permission of the original authors), and as such, it is automatically protected by the laws, rules, and regulations of the U.S. Copyright Office. STUDENT’S NAME: Nathan J. Dillon STUDENT’S SIGNATURE: ________________________________________________ DATE: ADVISER’S NAME: Carol L. Johnson, Ph.D. ADVISER’S SIGNATURE: __________________________________________________ DATE: --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- This section to be completed by the Graduate School This final research report has been approved by the Graduate School. ___________________________________________________ ___________________________ (Director, Office of Graduate Studies) (Date)

Transcript of Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss...

Page 1: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

1

Author: Dillon, Nathan, J.

Title: Children and Grief: Information for School Counselors

The accompanying research report is submitted to the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Graduate School in partial

completion of the requirements for the

Graduate Degree/ Major: MS School Counseling

Research Adviser: Carol Johnson, Ph.D.

Submission Term/Year: Fall, 2012

Number of Pages: 25

Style Manual Used: American Psychological Association, 6th

edition

I understand that this research report must be officially approved by the Graduate School and

that an electronic copy of the approved version will be made available through the University

Library website

I attest that the research report is my original work (that any copyrightable materials have been

used with the permission of the original authors), and as such, it is automatically protected by the

laws, rules, and regulations of the U.S. Copyright Office.

STUDENT’S NAME: Nathan J. Dillon

STUDENT’S SIGNATURE: ________________________________________________ DATE:

ADVISER’S NAME: Carol L. Johnson, Ph.D.

ADVISER’S SIGNATURE: __________________________________________________DATE:

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- ----

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This section to be completed by the Graduate School This final research report has been approved by the Graduate School.

___________________________________________________ ___________________________

(Director, Office of Graduate Studies) (Date)

Page 2: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

2

Dillon, Nathan J. Children and Grief: Information for School Counselors

Abstract

Many school-aged children are likely to experience the loss of a loved one and may have

to cope with the grieving process at some point in their lives. Not every child is going to

experience a death during their school years, but the odds that a student will have to deal with a

form of loss are rather significant. School counselors need to become aware of the warning signs

of sadness and loss and have strategies and resources available to help students adjust to life after

the passing of a loved one. In addition to death, there are many other types of losses as adults

file for divorce, families may be uprooted because of job relocation, or loss of lifestyle resulting

from a natural disaster. All these losses impact children and youth more frequently than

imagined.

One of the responsibilities of a school counselor is to be prepared to help a student who

might experience any form of loss by providing a supportive, safe environment where students

can express their emotions. Researchers emphasized an integrated approach for children

experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and

writing. Talking with a trusted adult has been found to be successful when helping students with

their grief as the child needs a trusted adult to assist with breaking down feeling of isolation,

mistrust, and hopelessness.

Page 3: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

3

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank my family for always being there for me and encouraging me

throughout this journey. I would also like to thank Brie Cooper, for allowing me to stay with her

in Budapest for part of the summer after my brother Rodger passed away. Finally, I would like

to thank my friends who have been there to help keep me sane and celebrate small achievements

during graduate school.

Dedication

To my Grandma and Grandpa Deviley and my brother Rodger, I love you and

miss you a lot. I wish you could be here to see me finally completing my journey.

Page 4: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

4

Table of Contents

Abstract ............................................................................................................................................2

Chapter I: Introduction ....................................................................................................................5

Statement of the Problem .....................................................................................................7

Purpose of the Study ............................................................................................................8

Research questions………………..……………………………………………………….8

Definition of Terms..............................................................................................................9

Assumptions and Limitations of the Study ..........................................................................9

Chapter II: Literature Review ........................................................................................................11

Introduction………………………………………………………………………………11 Traumatic Grief ..................................................................................................................11

Healing through Story-Telling ...........................................................................................15

Helping Children Cope with Loss......................................................................................17

Chapter III: Summary, Discussion and Recommendations ...........................................................21

Summary ............................................................................................................................21

Discussion ..........................................................................................................................22

Recommendations ..............................................................................................................23

References ......................................................................................................................................24

Page 5: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

5

Chapter I: Introduction

Bereavement and loss is an inevitable tragedy that school-aged children will likely face at

some point in their lives. One of the first thoughts that comes to mind when thinking about a

loss is that of a death. However, death is not the only tragedy that a child may have to grieve.

Grieving is not limited to death as it may also include the loss that comes with a family divorce,

loss of lifestyle due to cancer, relocating to another part of the country, lifestyle change due to

the economy, or even a severe disability.

Every year school-aged children are shown the devastating effects of Mother Nature, not

only what it can do to the environment, but also the impact it has on families. Hurricane Katrina

and Hurricane Rita are two prime examples of the devastation that can be caused by the weather.

Late August and early September of 2005, the two hurricanes combined to create a path of

destruction that ended with over 1,500 American lives lost, (Hurricane City, 2011) leaving

numerous families homeless, and some children were left orphaned. While the entire nation was

impacted after this natural disaster, it left thousands of children immediately impacted by the

hurricane’s sheer force.

Hurricane Katrina single-handedly took away the houses of thousands of people, leaving

them homeless and displaced throughout the country. For those children who were displaced

many experienced not only a loss of their home but also the security that they had known for

their entire lives. Some school-age children not only lost their homes but may have lost a pet or

a grandparent, and some children were even separated from their families and had to be placed in

temporary foster homes.

School counselors and administrators need to be prepared to handle these types of crisis

situations even when least expected. When children or adolescents find themselves in one of

Page 6: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

6

these situations, they will be looking for someone to help them cope with their loss. It is natural

for adults to be concerned for children and try to protect children from the aftermath (Emswiler

& Emswiler, 2000). Many adults avoid discussing the topic of death because of their own

personal discomfort with the issue (Webb, 2002). If children are unable to deal with grief

appropriately they could be at-risk for future complications, and may not be able to recover

properly from their trauma (Lenhardt & McCourt, 2000). Children, however, are more attuned

with what is going on around them than some adults may think.

When children are forced to deal with a tragedy at a young age, it is important for the

adults in the children’s lives to help. School-aged children do not have the experiences with loss

as do their adult counterparts. Due to their inexperience, children are often not sure how to

handle a loss of any kind. When parents divorce, it often causes a dramatic change in their

children’s lives. Children are faced with a change in lifestyle or even a potential move, possibly

from their current school district, or to a whole new city or state.

Professor Ian Hickie stated that divorce can go a number of ways for kids. For some it is

freedom to an end of parental conflict and being stuck in the middle. For others it is more

traumatic as there is more uncertainty, a change in living standards and circumstances, and there

may well be a separation from one parent (Harvie, 2003).

Children do not conceptualize events the same way that adults do because children think

more concretely than adults do. This thought process may alter how a child views certain losses.

Whether it is a death or a divorce, the way an adult talks about the loss may affect the way the

child views the loss. Faith and culture can also play an important role in the way that the adults

in a child’s life will talk about or handle the grief of loss.

Page 7: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

7

School counselors need to be aware of the different cultural and religious beliefs of their

students when helping them through their grief. Fiona Hulbert (1998) wrote “for children in

Jewish education I suggest an understanding of death and mourning beliefs and practices is

spiritually, practically and philosophically valuable to their lives as Jews” (p. 80). Taking the

time to understand how different cultures and religious groups grieve may provide school

counselors with insight, which in turn could help students who are grieving.

About every 30 seconds a child’s parents will divorce, while one out of six children will

lose a parent by the time they are fifteen (Marta, 1996). An astounding number of children

experience a tragic loss in their lives every day. School-age children will need someone to help

them through their grief period, and school counselors will have to be there to help their students

through those tough times. According to Marta, (1996) “young children often do not even

possess the vocabulary to express the intense hurt they are undergoing” (p.1). When children do

not possess the vocabulary to verbalize what they are feeling on their own, how can they be able

to understand what they are feeling?

There is an abundant amount of resources that are available to adults to help guide

children through their bereavement process. Researchers from Purdue University suggested

some helpful activities including going on a field trip to a cemetery, or to relate death to the

lifecycle, or to make a collage (Myers-Walls & Schultheis, 2007). Being prepared to talk about

death, along with having different resources to help explain death to school-aged children, will

help aid in the process.

Statement of the Problem

Previous research by Cohen & Mannarion (2004); Edgar-Bailey& Kress (2010); Hocking

& Scaletti (2010); Myers-Walls & Schultheis (2007) support using creative outlets to help

Page 8: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

8

children manage their individual bereavement. In order for the children to be able to manage

their loss, they will require the assistance of an adult to help them in their journey. However,

how are adults going to be able to work with the children if they are going to shelter them from

the reality of the situation? Parents, school counselors, and other school staff are going to have

to be prepared to help school-aged children cope with a loss when it arises. This study explores

different techniques that can be used by school counselors when working with a student who is

dealing with a loss.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this investigation is to determine different counseling techniques that

school counselors can use when working with students who are currently experiencing a loss in

their life. Techniques will be gathered through a variety of research articles in a review of

literature.

It seems that children are often confused when a family experiences a form of loss. Even

though the parents of the children do not purposely leave children out of the grieving process the

children seem to be forgotten. School personnel need to take the initiative to help children who

are experiencing that loss. By simply being there for the student, counselors may further help the

student understand what is going on and help the child throughout the grieving process.

Research Questions

The objective of this investigation is to gain a further understanding of different

techniques that are available to school counselors to help aid children during their time of

bereavement. What are the signs of grief in children? How can school counselors help children

who experience loss?

Page 9: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

9

Definition of Terms

To insure clarity of the content of this research paper, the following key words are defined.

Acrostic poem. Has the deceased person’s name written vertically down the side of the

page, and then each letter of the name is used to begin a line that symbolizes a memory of the

loved one.

Bereavement. Being bereaved or deprived of something or someone (Merriam-Webster).

Biblionarrative. The process of merging oral and written stories in order to facilitate

conversation and to gather a child’s life-story for clinical and research purposes (Refdoc.).

Cope. To deal with or overcome problems and difficulties (Merriam-Webster).

Grief. A deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement (Merriam-

Webster).

Traumatic Grief. A condition where a person loses a close loved one (e.g. a parent or a

sibling) in a traumatic manner, and ensuing trauma-related symptoms disrupt the normal grieving

process (Edgar-Bailey & Kress, 2010, p.158).

Assumptions Limitations

For the purpose of this study, the terms children, student, and school-aged children will

be used interchangeably when addressing the student who is going through a period of

bereavement. School-aged children range from ages of 6 to 18. It is assumed that the literature

being reviewed is accurate, current, and from a reliable source. For this study the main focus

will be on grief as a form of loss in which a student will be experiencing. However, some of the

research articles are included to address loss in the form of divorce. The experience that each

student will go through is unique to each individual. A limitation to this study is the lack of

Page 10: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

10

information that was found on culturally diverse backgrounds. Another limitation is that each

individual who experiences a loss is at cognitively different levels; therefore, individuals will be

suited to handle loss at different levels.

Page 11: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

11

Chapter II: Literature Review

Introduction

This chapter includes different coping techniques and strategies that can be used in

regard to school-aged children who are dealing with bereavement. In today’s culture, school-

aged children are normally excluded from death beds and funerals (Hulbert, 1999). Because of

this limitation, the concept of death to children is unfamiliar. When it comes time to deal with

the emotions that are associated with their loss, many children are left confused about knowing

how to feel and may turn that confusion into inappropriate behavioral outbursts.

Traumatic Grief

In 2000, it was estimated that 3.5% of U.S. school-aged children had experienced the

death of a parent (Social Security Administration, 2000). School-aged children are experiencing

death, yet they may not have a proper means of expressing what they are going through. The

bereavement process could lead to behavioral problems. “Traumatic grief is conceptualized as a

condition in which a person loses a close loved one (e.g. a parent or a sibling) in a traumatic

manner, and ensuing trauma-related symptoms disrupt the normal grieving process” (Edgar-

Bailey & Kress, 2010, p.158). The authors further described adolescent and childhood traumatic

grief which is most often referred to as CTG. Childhood and adolescent traumatic grief is as a

condition where a child or adolescent loses a close loved one in a traumatic manner and

subsequently develops trauma-related symptoms (Edgar-Bailey & Kress, 2010).

Not all school-aged children who lose a loved one from death will experience CTG. It is

important to gather the necessary background information about the situation in order to develop

an appropriate plan of action for grief counseling sessions. Remember that not every child will

experience death in the same way. Just as each death is unique, the bereavement each student

Page 12: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

12

may experience will also be unique to the individual. Creative interventions to help children

cope with their loss include: writing, storytelling, drawing, commemorating, and ritualizing.

These are examples of interventions that can be used throughout the counseling sessions.

The majority of the treatment-related literature dealing with CTG is based on using play

therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Trauma-focused interventions use affective

expressions skills, stress management skills, creation of the child’s trauma narrative, and

cognitive processing (Cohen & Mannarino, 2004). School-aged children may not have the

verbal ability to express what they are feeling; however, through the use of storytelling or art, the

child may be able to express their feelings. Using creative expression, school counselors may

have a better foundation to help the grieving child. Before beginning CBT-related interventions,

it is important that the school counselor assess and enhance school-aged children’s ability to self-

regulate emotional reactions and to self-soothe (Edgar-Bailey & Kress, 2010).

Before school counselors start the therapeutic process, it is important to build trust and

rapport with the student. Encourage the students bring in music that they find to be soothing.

Counselors may use peaceful imagery, and practice controlled breathing throughout the first

couple of sessions. This form of therapy can elicit strong emotional reactions and school

counselors must be prepared to help the students manage these reactions. Allowing school-aged

children to choose the medium in which they want to address their bereavement gives them a

sense of control by allowing them to choose the words or images that they portray. “Creative

arts provide an opportunity for children to create visual and tangible alternatives to disturbing

images” (Edgar-Bailey & Kress, 2010, p.162).

When using creative arts, students can choose words or images to show a painful emotion

while still being able to maintain a sense of security. In some cultures and family systems, the

Page 13: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

13

topic of death is not normally talked about causing an emotional rift in a student’s life,

particularly if the traumatic experience involves that of a suicide or a criminal act by an outsider,

a parent or sibling. The remaining members of the family may find it uncomfortable to talk

about it openly. Having the option of using metaphors and symbolism, school-aged children

may address their experience, providing them with a sense of optimism in an emotionally

repressive environment.

Some of the ways children may address their personal experience is through writing and

drawing trauma narratives. Having the school-aged children cognitively process the “worst

moment” of the traumatic event can help in raising the student’s tolerance to the particular event.

Having school-aged children develop an emotional callus to their traumatic event may help them

adjust to life post-tragedy. During stages of the therapy, it may not be uncommon for the student

to experience high anxiety when reliving the event. If this were to happen, it is important for the

school counselor to have the student practice the relaxation techniques that were developed in the

beginning of the grief counseling process. Depending on the cognitive ability of the school-aged

children, different paths could be taken when working with trauma narratives.

Older grieving youth may wish to use a biblionarrative. Writing out the story of what

happened leading up to prior and after the event may help create a deeper reprocessing for both

the student and the school counselor. In the book “Resolving Child and Adolescent Traumatic

Grief: Creative techniques and interventions,” authors suggest that the student should first

verbally tell the story to the counselor. After telling the story, a written narrative can be

completed and discussed. Students may find it difficult to verbalize the events of their story.

The school counselor may find it helpful to provide a story board for the student to follow. The

story board should be used only as a template with prompts on where to go with the story.

Page 14: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

14

However, when working with younger school-aged children, the ability to verbalize and write a

story may not be fully developed. School counselors may decide to have those students draw out

what happened. Another useful technique that goes along with narratives is having the student

write or draw what life would look like later on when they have healed more.

Acrostic poems are another creative technique that can be used with older school-aged

children. Acrostic poems focus on commemorating the deceased by allowing the student to

assign memories that captured their loved one’s life. An acrostic poem has the deceased

person’s name written vertically down the side of the page, and then each letter of the name is

used to begin a line that symbolizes a memory of the loved one. The following is an example of

one.

R ambunctious when he needed to be

O utgoing to make people feel welcomed

D edicated son, brother, father, and spouse

G enerosity overwhelmed him

E ager to meet new people

R oyal pain in the butt, yet loving and caring

If the client is having difficulties coming up with words that describe their loved one, the school

counselor may find it beneficial to have the student relive some positive memories to help with

the descriptive words.

School-aged children might find it beneficial to write a letter to their loved one. Students

may not always have the opportunity to say a final farewell to their loved one. Writing a letter

allows the student to have the opportunity to say farewell to their loved one who may not have

otherwise had the chance. Writing a letter also can give the student an opportunity to get out

Page 15: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

15

some pent up aggression if the death was a suicide or drug related. Letters can be saved and used

later in their counseling sessions to demonstrate emotional progression of the student. In older

youth, journal writing can also be beneficial and provide a medium where students can review

their journals when they are not in session to help track their emotions. Neimeyer commented “it

is important to encourage the client to observe how the writing changes over time, perhaps from

a state of anguish to a more reflective state or from making strides toward acceptance to

emotional setbacks” (cited in Edgar-Bailey & Kress, 2010, p.168).

Healing through Story Telling

Using written narratives may help children cope with loss. Edgar-Bailey and Kress

(2010) authors of “Healing through Story Telling: An integrated approach for children

experiencing grief and loss,” explains the benefits of using sand-tray therapy, storytelling, and

group therapy to help young school-aged children cope with grief and loss. Journaling and

writing narratives reflect cultural meanings and convey rich personal details (Hocking & Scaletti,

2010). Encouraging school-aged children to create a story about the grief or loss they are

dealing with gives students the opportunity to own the situation while describing it in their own

words. Storytelling provides school counselors an insight into the world of the student when the

student describes what is happening. With standard practice, a counselor may not get the chance

to know the big picture, rather only those emotions that are tied to the grief.

Before creating the story, the school counselor should allow the student to use a tray of

sand and an assortment of objects to visually tell of the story of the child’s perspective of what

happened. Sand is initially used because it is a familiar multisensory medium. Combining the

sand with other objects, students can portray different places, people, and events (Hocking &

Scaletti, 2010). Sand tray therapy helps get school-aged children focused on the here and now.

Page 16: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

16

After the child is finished depicting the story in the sand, open-ended questions can be used to

have the student describe different parts of the story.

After students have developed their own stories in the sand it is beneficial for students to

progress into a group therapy with a peer group. The group of students shares a commonality in

that they all are going a through a bereavement period. Students may not all be at the same level,

but having different stages of grief can show students where they are, and where they will be

over time. “Children coping with similar issues come together to interact, observe and listen to

each other; reinforce each other’s skills and insights; and give and receive feedback about each

other’s behavior and thoughts” (Hocking & Scaletti, 2010, p.67). Groups may provide a safe

venue for school-aged children to express their feelings openly and to receive feedback from

their peers who are also going through a similar situation.

In addition to the peer group and sand-tray therapy, Hocking and Scaletti (2010) discuss

the benefits of having the student create a personal story book about what each student is

experiencing. School-counselors, parents/caregivers, and the child may want to team up in

developing a story that is unique to the child’s personal experience of grief or loss. Having

children create personal stories and drawings enables the child to ‘see’ and ‘hear’ their story over

and over again. Even though it may be easier to go out and purchase a book that is orientated for

children going through this period of loss and grief, writing their own perceptions makes it more

personal and relevant. Having their own book about their grief allows children the opportunity

to remember important details, and can come to an understanding of their own experiences and

feelings.

Hocking and Scaletti (2010) discussed a client who was referred after her father was

involved in a fatal car accident. Not having an appropriate outlet for her emotions, Emily was

Page 17: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

17

grief stricken and had started to act out negatively in class. Once the researchers had built a

sufficient rapport with Emily, they began to use sand tray therapy. Emily went on to develop a

story about what she went through after losing her dad and then she was able to gain a better

understanding of her emotional state. From there the researchers included Emily in group

therapy with other children who were going through similar situations. Emily and her mother

took part in creating a story book that told her story of what was going on in Emily’s life.

Emily’s therapist wrote up the story and allowed Emily to draw and color on the opposite pages.

Giving Emily the freedom to depict what she felt gave her an outlet of self-expression. At one

point in her therapy Emily took her book home to read to her teddy bear that once belonged to

her father. Her mother reported hearing her reading the story over and over again to Patches her

teddy bear. Emily also explained to Patches “Dad was not coming home but that they could still

talk to him” (Halking and Scaletti, 2010, p.5).

The example of Emily gives a real life representation of the effectiveness of this

combination of therapeutic methods. School counselors may not have access to sand tray

therapy; however, through the use of puppets, role play or another play-therapy activity, similar

results may be obtained. The importance of multiple and varied strategies is for students to

recognize the emotions they are going through and how to handle them.

Helping Children Cope with Loss

“Every thirty seconds a child’s parents divorce. One of every six children will lose a

parent to death before the age 15” (Marta, 1996, p.1). Even though students may not be turning

to their school counselors immediately for grief counseling, there are still students who are in

need of someone to listen to them and help them through this hard time.

Page 18: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

18

While the previous counseling strategies focused mainly on grief as a result of death, the

final strategy focuses on divorce in terms of loss and grief. When parents’ divorce, grief can be

sustained over long periods of time due to a difficult separation, or ugly custody battles.

Children are often caught in the middle of their parents’ battles, just wanting the fighting to stop.

It is through caring, nurturing adults, including the school counselor, who provide a stable adult

role model in their lives. When children are going through a divorce or there is a death in the

family, children are often not included in the discussion as adults try to protect them. Even

though the parents may not realize it, they can be so tied up in their own grief that they forget to

recognize that their child is experiencing the loss as well.

“In a way to protect their children from painful events, parents often do not tell children

what is happening in the family” (Marta, 1996, p. 3). School-aged children realize more than

they are told, and often create their own fantasies about what is happening. It is through these

fantasies that children can create a worse scenario than what is really present. After divorce,

children often feel torn because they want to be with both parents, when in reality they are only

with one parent for the majority of the time although some children of divorce are shared in

custody and shuffled between homes.

Marta stated that grief is a normal human reaction to any important loss. Some examples

of loss may include: moving from a neighborhood or a school; family member losing a job; a

brother or sister leaving for college or getting married; a pet dying; parents divorcing; or a

parent, friend, or relative dying (Marta, 1996). There are five stages to grief: denial, anger,

bargaining, depression, and acceptance. School-age children, like adults, are not likely to go

through these five stages in consecutive order, they may start off in anger, move to bargaining,

depression, denial, and finally acceptance. There is no set way that an individual will go through

Page 19: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

19

these different stages. For children going through divorce, a school counselor may hear a child

stating that if his parents get back together, he/she will try harder in their school work or strive to

not misbehave. While another student whose parents are going through a divorce may exhibit

anger and act out at school because the student is not sure what they are supposed to be feeling.

One of the best ways for children to express what they are feeling is in the form of a story.

Some signs that a child may be having difficulty at home include frequent absenteeism,

decline in grades, incomplete homework, and locker/desk messiness. Long-lasting radical shifts

in behavior are not part of the normal grieving process, but can be an indicator of a more serious

emotional instability that needs to be addressed by the school counselor or referred to an outside

counseling source. Classroom traditions (i.e. family tree, Mother’s Day cards) have a long

standing history of a cohesive two parent family; however, to a child who is recently going

through a divorce or has lost one of his parents, those activities can be hurtful.

As the school counselor becomes aware of the tragedy that a student is going through,

there are different strategies that can be used to help ease the pain of what the student might

experience in the classroom. If teachers are aware of the identity of the single-parent children,

lessons can be adjusted to fit their needs, as well as the needs of other students who might be

from non-traditional homes (Marta 1996). If a child has experienced a death, initiate a class

discussion about the topic when appropriate. The student who is currently grieving a loss may

find out that another classmate has had a similar experience or is going through the same thing.

Together those students can form a new bond and have someone to help them cope with what

they are experiencing. School counselors should make sure that there are books available in the

media center or classrooms for the school-aged youth if they wish to read more about the topics

of death and divorce.

Page 20: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

20

Because of the different levels of maturity and acceptance, it is important to take that into

account when meeting with them. A school counselor may not wish to choose a technique that is

cognitively too advanced for a student in early elementary school and the school counselor

should be aware that different strategies might be more relevant for a high school student.

It is important for the school counselor to be aware of students’ behavior when a student

is suffering some form of loss. By being prepared and acting as a stable adult figure in a

student’s life, the school counselor may be able to help students through an extremely tough time

in their lives. Children do not always know how to cope with loss and may take their depressive

emotions and turn them outward into a more violent or aggressive-based emotional response.

School counselors need to be able to help the student cope with the loss in a positive manner that

will help them adjust to their new living situation.

Whether it is a divorce, loss, or an uprooting move, a child often experiences grief and

loss differently from an adult. School-aged children may not understand why they are feeling

this way or what the exact details are, but it is the challenge of their parents, school counselor,

and other school staff to provide the necessary resources to offer the student when help is

needed.

Page 21: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

21

Chapter III: Summary, Discussion and Recommendations

Summary

The focus of the literature reviewed centered on the idea of death as a form of loss that

school-aged children are likely going to experience at some point in their lives. Not every child

is going to experience a death, but the odds that a student will have to deal with a form of loss

are rather significant. Adults file for divorce; families may be uprooted because of job relocation

or through a natural disaster; and death happens on a daily basis impacting children and youth

everywhere. One of the responsibilities of a school counselor is to be prepared to help a student

who might experience any form of loss by providing a supportive, safe space to work out their

emotions.

The vast majority of the literature reviewed emphasized an integrated approach for

children experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing,

sculpting and writing to help school-aged children cope with their grief. Whether it is the major

area of focus or the evolution of play therapy into a story, talking with a trusted adult has been

found to be successful when helping students out with their grief. “The ability of a child to trust

an adult enough to express painful emotions is a key component to breaking down feeling of

isolation, mistrust, and cynicism” (Edgar-Bailey & Kress, 2010, p. 163). School counselors

should strive to create a space where school-aged children will feel comfortable and safe enough

to express what they are really feeling.

Both books, “Resolving Child and Adolescent Traumatic Grief: Creative Techniques and

Interventions,” and “Healing through Story Telling: An integrated approach for children

experiencing grief and loss” focused on the use of creativity to help students cope with their

grief. School-aged children may not possess the vocabulary to talk about what they are feeling.

Page 22: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

22

However, through the use of drawing or acting out their grief, students may be able to show their

school counselor what they are feeling, thus allowing the school counselor to aid the children

through their grief. Each student will experience grief in their own unique manner and no two

students will handle their bereavement the same way or under the same time-frame.

Discussion

The information that has been provided throughout this study has provided useful

interventions that can be explored and used to help school-aged children in coping with loss and

the grieving process. Several ideas for individual counseling and small group counseling are

presented encouraging a counselor to use resources including stories, discussions, writing and

journaling, and play therapy. Based on the literature, it was further suggested that adults try to

include children as much in the events that follow a tragedy or a death as much as they can. By

sheltering the children, adults may only slow the process of grieving traumatic events. Informing

the child what has happened and explaining it in terms that are developmentally appropriate, are

possible strategies that may help the child understand.

It is also important for parents be a part of their children’s grieving process. The

inclusion of the parents may add a sense of stability to the school-aged child’s rocky life. School

counselors have a variety of different techniques that are available for them to use in their

practice. It is important for school counselors to remember that they should not attempt a

counseling technique that is beyond their knowledge level or their capability, and some

counselors may prefer to refer a family to outside assistance when they are beyond their abilities

in order to best serve students.

Another challenge for a school setting might be the limited resources, space, and the

number of children who are experiencing, grief at any given moment may prohibit the school

Page 23: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

23

counselor from being as effective as possible. For example in a school-wide tragedy, it might be

nearly impossible for the school counselor to handle all the grieving students when they are also

experiencing grief and loss on a personal level too. Knowledge of grief resources would be

helpful for all counselors so they can contact professionals for outside support as needed.

Participating in workshops and updated training sessions, and reading professional journals may

also contribute to enhancing the skill set of the school counselor.

Recommendations for Future Research

This study focused on student grief and loss faced by school age children. Further

research may benefit the schools by including research on special populations including students

with learning disabilities and limited cognitive reasoning. The research is also lacking

information on culturally diverse backgrounds, and working with those students with limited

English language skills. Culture and religion can play a large part in how a family system is

taught to handle grief, and in turn may impact how the counselor approaches ways to handle

grief. Further research may contribute to the skill set for all grief counselors if more information

was available on the topics of culture, children and grief.

Page 24: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

24

References

Cohen, J. A., & Mannarino, A.P. (2004). Treatment of childhood traumatic grief. Journal of

Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 33, 819-831.

Edgar-Bailey, M., & Kress, V.E. (2010). Resolving child and adolescent traumatic grief:

Creative techniques and interventions. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 5(2), 158-

176. doi: 10.1080/15401383.2010.485090

Emswiler, M.A., & Emswiler, J.P. (2000). Guiding your child through grief. New York,

NY: Bantam Books.

Hocking, C., & Scaletti, R. (2010). Healing through story telling: An integrated approach for

children experiencing grief and loss. New Zealand Journal of Occupational

Therapy, 57(2), 66-71.

Hulbert, F. (1999). Teaching about loss, change, death and bereavement in the primary school.

The Journal of Progressive Judaism, 13, 79-82.

Hurricane City. (2011). Retrieved December 2nd 2011. Retrieved from:

http://hurricanecity.com/dam/dam2005.htm

Lenhardt, A.M.C., & McCourt, B. (2000). Adolescent unresolved grief in response to the

death of a mother. Professional School Counseling, 3, 189-197.

Marta, S. (1996). When death or divorce occur: Helping children cope with loss. ERIC

Document Reproduction No. ED 402023

Merriam-Webster.com. Bereavement. (2011) Retrieved December 5th, from: http://merriam-

webster.com/dictionary/bereavment

Page 25: Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss including the use of storytelling, journaling, drawing, sculpting and writing. Talking

25

Merriam-Webster.com. Cope. (2011) Retrieved December 5th, from: http://merriam-

webster.com/dictionary/bereavment

Merriam-Webster.com. Grief. (2011) Retrieved December 5th, from: http://merriam-

webster.com/dictionary/bereavment

Myers-Walls, J., & Schultheis, M. (2007). Books and activities for parents about death.

Retrieved from: www.ces.purdue.edu/purplewagon/PARENTS/MilitaryResources/

BooksActivitiesDeathParentsMF.htm

Refdoc.com. (2012) Biblionarrative. Retrieved October 27th, from:

http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=17583747

Social Security Administration. (2000). Intermediate assumptions of the 2000 trustees

report. Washington, DC: Office of the Chief Actuary of the Social Security

Administration.

Webb, N.B. (2002). Helping bereaved children: A handbook for practitioners. New

York, NY: The Guilford Press.