• Dawn Ford

Do Schools Tend To Treat Grief As A Discipline Issue Rather Than An Emotional Reality?

Last night was another interesting and eye-opening session - Week 2 of the "Helping Children With Loss' training and one of the topics aired was:

"Do schools tend to treat grief as a discipline issue rather than an emotional reality?"

In order to answer this I want to offer The Grief Recovery Method's definition of grief, which is:


"Grief is the emotional response to loss of any kind"

and examples of significant losses could include: a close relative dying or a dear beloved pet, of moving home, or parents splitting up, a sibling moving away, being bullied or major health concerns for themselves or for someone close. And what we need to do as parents, guardians, carers teachers etc is to hear them. Hear their emotions first.

How many of us experienced these losses as children or had friends who had? I had friends who had the unthinkable happen - a parent tragically died. I had a friend whose mum was bringing them up on her own due to divorce. I moved home and schools far too often and struggled each time. I was bullied.


"Hear and acknowledge the emotions before you address the facts of the story." 'When Children Grieve'-handbook

Adults can fall into the trap of attempting to 'fix' children by explaining the facts of a situation - and whilst this can be helpful frequently the child already knows the facts of the situation and what they want and need is for you to listen to their feelings.

Many children after a few failed attempts to be heard will stop trying. They will bury their feelings and they may develop some behavioural problems as a consequence. Emotions create energy. Negative or sad emotions create a lot of energy - so where does that energy go? How do they release the energy if their emotions are not heard? Do you recall as a child not being listened to after a traumatic or sad event and eventually you withdrew, isolated yourself, or perhaps you had anger outbursts or became destructive, damaging or destroying things of importance either your own or of others? I know I did.


So the child who is bedwetting , having tantrums, nightmares or refusing to go to school may well be struggling with their buried feelings over a loss. The behaviour they exhibit can be read as 'playing up', as being defiant or plain naughty. I am not saying this is true of every child in a family or in your class but it could be true for some of them and that's what we need to be aware of. Naughty or extreme behaviour may not be what it first appears. Dig deeper. Ask them what happened? Why do they feel they need to do this (whatever it is they are doing to exert the energy).


When you consider that most employees entitlement of 'compassionate leave' following a bereavement is in days not weeks, you can see that the myth that 'Don't be sad' or 'keep busy' - (return to work) are deeply entrenched in our society. If we - the adult, the parent, the teacher have entrenched misconceptions around grief and loss and feel or believe that returning to work, keeping busy will heal our grief then we can be too readily dismissive of the grief or loss that the children in our care are experiencing; especially when we think we should all feel better after a short amount of time. Such misconceptions over grief are so damaging.

Also if as the adult we have not been encouraged to show our emotions and consequently feel awkward or embarrassed with those feelings then we may not be the most receptive to the emotional display in 'our' children. Two wrongs never make a right. It's time for this to change.


If you are interested in this training and you want to make a difference to the children in your care - in a personal or professional capacity then please do get in touch. You will learn how to make children more emotionally resilient - helping reduce mental health issues later on in life.


I run this programme 1 evening/week for 4 weeks. Places are available to everyone. Email: dawn@dawnford.co.uk


Below is an extract on 'compassionate leave' as found on the Reed website:

How much time off can I take? There is no set amount of time an employer should allow when it comes to bereavement leave, and it’s usually given at their own discretion, depending on the situation. Some may specify a set number of days, whilst others will make their decision on a case-by-case basis. On average, businesses will most commonly permit around 2-5 days. This allows the employee to deal with an unforeseen emergency, along with the arranging and attending of a funeral.



*photo credit - Kat - J - Unsplash*

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