Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss...
Transcript of Author: Dillon, Nathan, J. Children and Grief: Information ... · experiencing grief and loss...
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
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
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)
Dillon, Nathan J. Children and Grief: Information for School Counselors
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
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.
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.
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.
Table of Contents
Chapter I: Introduction ....................................................................................................................5
Statement of the Problem .....................................................................................................7
Purpose of the Study ............................................................................................................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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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?
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
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-
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).
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
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.
Chapter II: Literature Review
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
Chapter III: Summary, Discussion and Recommendations
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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