Young lives at risk if bereavement is not addressed

13th October 1995 at 01:00
I sincerely hope that the school experience of the boy whose father died ("Death in the family", TES, September 29) is not typical. This is an example of the scant regard paid to emotional needs still to be seen in some classrooms. You can be certain that if they are not addressed the individuals involved will be preoccupied, certainly not functioning well on social or intellectual levels, and possibly left with life-long difficulties.

To abdicate responsibility by claiming not to be a social worker or counsellor leaves me cold. How can we not interact with the whole child?

It is high time basic counselling skills were a component of teacher training but even without that, any caring, sensitive teacher would display empathy and never try to avoid or ignore such an event in a child's life. Making allowances is a very weak gesture.

It is on occasions such as this that the strengths of holding regular "circle times" in the classroom become abundantly clear. Bereaved children can benefit enormously from participating, because it is at these times that support is needed, not just from the teacher, but peers as well. I have often witnessed how incredibly powerful it can be when children feel safe enough to discuss their worries and concerns and how liberating it is when their peers, along with the teacher, declare their support.

I know of a situation in one school where a nine-year-girl shared with the circle her fears for the health of her mother, a single parent. The expressions of sincere care and promises of practical backing that came spontaneously from all her peers moved the teacher to tell the rest of the staff that that experience alone would warrant holding "circle times" for the rest of her career.

MURRAY WHITE International Council for Self-Esteem 5 Ferry Path Cambridge

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