Many in the Stonington community are in shock after the unexpected death of a 15-year-old Stonington High School student. Parents are dealing with their own grief while also helping their children deal with the loss. Stonington Human Services Director Beth-Ann Stewart, who is also a mother, shared several suggestions for ways parents can help their children through the grieving process:
Acknowledge and validate your child’s emotions, remembering emotions are displayed in a number of ways. Although our instinct as parents is to protect our children from discomfort, be careful not to deny your child their grief. There are no right or wrong emotions. Avoid statements that try to alter their feelings or put a positive spin on the situation. Allow them the opportunity to experience the range of emotions that follow a loss. This is a normal part of the grief process. Note this is a process, not an event. Also, don't personalize their responses as they try to process this emotional experience.
Talk to your children when you can do so uninterrupted. If they have not come to you, ask them. "I am sorry to hear about your friend's death. Is there something I can do that will be helpful?" or "What are your friends saying about what happened?" Children will vary in their responses. If they have questions, answer their questions honestly. If you don't know the answer, tell them you don't. Remind them that often times rumors surface surrounding tragedies. Such rumors are not based on fact and only create anxiety.
If they don’t want to talk, tell them you are available to listen at any time. Offer them resources, helping them to identify adults in their life that they can always turn to for help when they want to talk, including school and community resources. Remember grief can be expressed not only verbally, but physically and behaviorally as well, particularly with teens. Some signs to watch for include changes in behavior, mood, concentration, grades, risk taking and somatic manifestations.
Stewart added that parents should allow their children to lead the conversation and parents should answer questions with brief and truthful responses.
“If I were to identify two consistent themes for parents to present to their grieving children: there is no right or wrong way to feel and it is O.K. for your child to talk about the experience when he or she is ready,” Stewart said. “As a Mom I would propose that second item is the most challenging for parents. We can't control when our child is ready to talk. What we can control is our availability to listen when they are ready.”
Stonington Public Schools and Human Services held a parental counseling session at SHS on Thursday, Feb. 16, and will host an additional support group session for parents with or without their high schools students on Thursday, Feb. 23, at 7 p.m. at the Stonington Human Services building. Calvary Church in Stonington Borough is also offering grief support services.