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Why provide opportunities for education about change, loss, and grief?

Changes, disappointments, and losses and the grief associated with them are part of life for all of us. Grieving can be a very lonely, painful, and frightening experience. Adults
should recognise and acknowledge children’s grief and help them with feelings that they may not understand.

Grieving rituals are social responses to grief that have developed within particular cultures. The grieving rituals of Màori and European cultures are fundamental parts of this country’s heritage. Understanding the responses and attitudes to grief that are part of the cultures of the local community and the wider New Zealand community will enrich the curriculum for all students.

However, many losses commonly experienced by children (for example, when parents separate or when the family moves house) are not associated with formal social rituals. Such unacknowledged losses can be particularly difficult for those affected by them. More frequent are the disappointments of life, such as not being selected for a sports team or choir or not receiving a promised treat or a much-hoped-for birthday present. Many children find these disappointments hard to manage, and their struggles to come to terms with them may be trivialised or ignored.

This book emphasises that:

  • these kinds of disappointments, and the losses associated with them, are common events
  • it is important to acknowledge the feelings that arise because of disappointment
  • children can use the same coping techniques to deal with disappointment as with other feelings of loss.

Children who are refugees will be affected by change and loss, especially if they have little or no experience of the languages and cultures of New Zealand. It is important that teachers acknowledge the impact that grief can have on the ability of refugee students to adapt to new situations, to make friends, to accept new behavioural requirements, and to learn (see pages 54–55 of the Ministry of Education book Non-English-Speaking-Background Students: A Handbook for Schools).

Education about change, loss, and grief is a way of preparing children to deal with the losses that occur all through their lives, not just in times of crisis. Schools provide opportunities for education about change, disappointment, loss, and grief because: 

  • grief is something that every child will experience
  • children who are grieving can be helped if other people show understanding of their experiences
  • children who develop healthy ways of grieving find it easier to cope with disappointment and loss and are better equipped to deal with grief as adults. Ideally, teachers and parents or caregivers work together to support students.

The school’s role is primarily educative, not therapeutic. This book, therefore, focuses on grief education, not therapy. While some of the suggested activities may result in therapeutic outcomes for some children, that is not their primary purpose.