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Children having to deal with loss is varied and complex, and each individual child copes and expresses their emotions in their own way. Karen Hendriks shares her experiences as a teacher, and as a parent, with the focus on the power of stories to help children through their grief. A beautiful and heartfelt article.
When I was a teacher, often when a child had lost a parent and then returned to school, it seemed there was an elephant in the room. The child was kept busy and often shielded, and the topic avoided. The pain of the child’s loss was felt but no one really talked about it. Often a child did want to share but not in a formal way. Only when things popped into their mind, they wanted to talk.
When we shared picture books and had discussions it was important to the child to talk about their parent as if they were still with them. If we read a book about bedtime, often the child would share what they did with their parent. This was important, because we were acknowledging their parent and bringing them into the room with us by giving the child the space to share. It wasn’t sad, but warm, and the child felt happy inside. It was little incidental things that would bring smiles. Like, ‘My Mum loved strawberries‘. And I would reply, ‘I do too. They’re so yummy‘. Or, ‘This song was our favourite’. The child’s memories needed to be shared incidentally in little ways. It was their way of bringing their someone special back into their world.
Sometimes a story is the best way to open dialogue with a child. By reading a story we can help children know that they are not alone and that what they are experiencing is acknowledged and normal. A story is a safe way to open up a conversation with children about grief and loss. A child will often want to talk but not know how to. This can be with a parent, or a group or even with a counsellor. After dealing with a near death experience myself, as a parent I also got to see the other side. I didn’t want to be forgotten and not talked about. This was foremost in my mind when writing Feathers. It was a way of letting children know that their Mum’s love is always there and that there’s a way to bring it back.
Other ways that I found to help children, depending upon their age, were drawing, journaling and the story tent with a book. There is not a to do list as each child is different and deals with things their own unique way. But Feathers was created as a doorway to dialogue to help a child deal with their feelings and to be empowered and know that love has no end.
Article by Karen Hendriks.
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