It is now a fact of life that in every classroom there are children going through a grieving process following the break-up of the family unit. Some children are grieving the loss of a parent through death, while many more are experiencing re-adjustment because a parent has left the family home.
While the two experiences are different, the processes through which the children must go are very similar. Grief is a natural response following any significant loss - its resolution can take a long time, but it can be achieved if there is support, listening, and the opportunity to express the feelings which are experienced. Yet too often children remain, and are encouraged to remain, silent. This does not mean that pain is not experienced, it means that it is unexpressed and buried. However, even though the child may co-operate with the expectations of silence, all the evidence indicates that unresolved grief will eventually find expression, often some considerable time after the event which provoked the grief.
While it is true that teachers are not social workers, they are adults who are very significant in the life of the children they teach. The children look to their teachers for normal human care and interest. Most children experiencing a painful loss and the subsequent re-adjustment do not require a social worker or a counsellor. What most children need is for the important adults in their lives to listen to their story, to allow them to express their feelings and accept them without judgment or criticism, and without suggesting that there are solutions or easy answers. Teachers are in a unique position to offer this support.
While most of the support which teachers can, and indeed do, offer is informal, there are more structured ways of offering help. One such way is through the programmes provided by the organisation Rainbows. This organisation, introduced into England five years ago, has set up groups in more than 60 schools. After training, volunteers from the staff run the programmes with small groups of children over a 12-week period. The first schools to start the programmes are embarking upon their fifth series.
There are no quick or easy answers to the grief of children, but those who have taken part in the Rainbows programmes have found them supportive and helpful. It is a tremendous sign of the care and concern of so many teachers that more than 600 have trained to run the programmes, and many more are preparing to do so in the course of this academic year.
NIGEL BAVIDGE National director Rainbows 62 Headingley Lane Leeds