School-based Grief Groups: How They Help Kids Cope
Someone “lost” a grandparent. A beloved sibling “passed away.” A child’s mom “is in a better place.” There are lots of ways we talk about death in our culture without actually using the word “death.” But when children hear us avoiding the word, they begin to believe that death is something that’s not OK to talk about. And when kids don’t talk, we don’t know what they’re thinking or what they’re going through.
That’s where Delaware Hospice’s New Hope program comes in. Year after year, elementary, middle and high schools in Delaware and parts of Pennsylvania count on New Hope for our free school-based grief groups for children and teens ages 6-18. The program offers a safe space for kids to talk about and process the death of a loved one. A place where they can freely ask the questions they’ve been afraid to ask, like: Do a person’s nails and hair still grow once they’re buried? What is cremation? What is a casket? Or, was the person’s death my fault?
Liz Scheer is one of the New Hope counselors who runs Delaware Hospice’s school-based groups for children and teens identified by their school guidance counselors as someone who could benefit from the program. Over the course of four weekly sessions, Scheer guides the groups as they talk about death and loss, explore their feelings, consider coping strategies, and celebrate the lives of their loved ones.
“One of the rules of the group is that you aren’t going to be forced to talk,” Scheer said. “And that takes away a lot of the anxiety about it. What ends up happening without the children even noticing, is they inadvertently become more comfortable talking because they have the choice of being able to be silent about topics.”
Even though talking isn’t a requirement, once one person shares (even if it’s Liz who goes first) there’s often a domino effect, and the kids start to open up—one of the advantages of the group experience.
Some might think that stopping to talk about death in the middle of the school day like this would be distracting for kids, and they would struggle to switch back into school mode after their session. But Scheer has found the opposite to be true. “The kids feel like they can take a ‘load off’ or get stuff off of their chest,” Scheer explained. “Because they get a chance to talk about what they’re going through, they don’t have to carry around this burden all day.”
Conducting grief groups at schools offers a number of advantages:
- The groups take place in a familiar setting, with a hand-off from a guidance counselor the children already know.
- Children and teens get to see that they’re not the only one who has experienced a death, and get the chance to form connections with other children and teens in their own school who have experienced loss.
- The kids are already in the school building, which means there are no transportation issues to get them to the sessions.
- The program makes it easier for parents or guardians—who may be coping with their own grief—to connect their child with extra support. They simply have to return the forms granting their permission for their child to participate.
- Even though licensed school counselors are equipped to help children and teens cope with death, they often appreciate the extra assistance from someone who specializes in helping children and teens talk about and process death.
Generous donors make the New Hope school-based program possible for our community’s children. In addition to our school-based program, Delaware Hospice is also able to offer individual children’s grief counseling as well as Camp New Hope, a four-day summer camp for grieving children and teens, thanks to our supporters.
When you give to Delaware Hospice, you give grieving children the gift of New Hope. Donate today to support Delaware Hospice’s critical work in the community!