Schools are out for summer vacation, and many students encounter the natural termination of many relationships with adults and other children. The academic year predictably comes to a close, and continues its pattern for some years to follow.
Multiple times I have observed parents and students address year-end terminations as pedestrian; however, I challenge adults to use these events as teachable moments.
"A teachable moment is an unplanned opportunity that arises in the classroom where a teacher has an ideal chance to offer insight to his or her students.
A teachable moment is not something that you can plan for; rather, it is a fleeting opportunity that must be sensed and seized by the teacher. Often it will require a brief digression that temporarily sidetracks the original lesson plan so that the teacher can explain a concept that has inadvertently captured the students' collective interest."
Talking about goodbyes and losses of relationships might not be the most comfortable conversations with our children, yet using natural terminations within the academic year can help promote resilience with larger losses and transitions in a child's future. It may be years until a greater-scale loss occurs, yet for some children, loss is very real and can present itself in the forms of divorce, moving, or death.
With transitions in life, a previous lifestyle or belief system may need to be mourned. Developmentally, children acknowledge and cope through grief according to several factors. Some involve age, level of insight, and intensity of the loss. Some children transition seamlessly, and do not need much dialogue about the loss. Other children may need more coping skills and support to process losses.
Some ways to help promote coping skills for children in terms of understanding loss and saying goodbye include:
Having pets - Pets are going to die, especially smaller animals such as hamsters and fish. Using the deaths or losses of pets can help introduce the concepts of impermanence to children. The dialogue can explore past positive memories associated with the pets, as well as identifying how the child is feeling at the moment, and how moments will not always feel so negative. Spiritual questions of death may also be raised. Depending on one's comfort with the topic, children can be exposed to simple explanations of faith or spirituality. It may be very comforting for children to have a safe environment to ask such questions. If children are not encouraged to ask these questions, it may stop a process of open communication through vulnerable moments in life.
Meaning of goodbye - Some adults may not explore the meaning of good-bye themselves, even though it is a very natural part of being human. With children, a simple conversation or series of conversations about the meaning of goodbye can help promote an acceptance of the grief process. With terminating school relationships, talking about telling people how important they are to oneself can help bring closure to children. Writing thank you letters and wishing others a positive future can also help.
Ceremony or ritual - Just as funerals can help give closure to death, creating a ceremony or ritual related to ending the school year can help with transitioning for children. As stated before, sharing words of gratitude or handing out gifts of appreciation may help support closure. Planting trees or flowers can help establish a ritual to honor important events or people.
Memory books - Children may not have the largest verbal language to express how important the past year has been to them. Drawing pictures, taking photographs of important people and places, and documenting these positive moments can give a child something to refer to when missing a part of life that no longer exists. Having an artifact can be very powerful in solidifying positive memories in a child's life.
- Memory books don't have to be fancy--a few stapled pieces of paper can suffice.
Writing - Having children write letters that they can keep to themselves or give to others can help increase processing of past events. Just as journal writing can help many of us with safe emotional exploration, letter writing can help children make more sense of their sometimes confusing and strong emotions related to loss. Sometimes when a person is no longer available to speak with, letter writing can help express unspoken words.
Have you tried these methods? Are there any suggestions or tips to help other adults with helping children cope with loss?