Hosted by the Association for the Education of Young Children, child bereavement support specialist Suzanne Bayer spoke about her volunteer time at Ele’s Place, a child and teen bereavement support center located in Ann Arbor. She said she hadn’t learned very much about childhood bereavement in her undergraduate or graduate studies, which is what drove her to become a child bereavement support specialist.
She spoke about having a young student, also a Romanian orphan, suffer from the loss of her pet bunny. Prior to this experience, Bayer didn’t have any formal education on childhood bereavement so her natural response was to get the child’s mind off of her loss. However, Bayer said that this might be of detriment to the child.
“When there is a child who has experienced a loss, whether it be a pet or someone that they have loved, it is not the best thing to busy them,” said Bayer. “It’s not the best thing to get their mind off of it because grief needs to be suspended.”
Bayer highlighted that children don’t get over grief. Instead, they learn to integrate the loss into their lives.
Bayer also expanded into the five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—created by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. Bayer clarified that these stages are not a linear timeline, and often happen simultaneously. Young children will experience these stages over and over again and have periods of re-grief because of their developmental changes. “Nobody is doing grief the wrong way,” said Bayer. “Grief is so individual because of the multitude of emotions, especially for young children passing different developmental levels.”
One technique Bayer emphasized was reflective listening, where the goal is to allow the child to fully express what they are feeling. Educators may verbalize “road blocks” like questioning or giving advice, which halt conversation and hinder the griever from being able to mourn. “The objective is to help the child feel accepted right where they are,” said Bayer. “Saying things like ‘can you tell me more about that…’ or ‘it sounds like…’ help engage the talker.”
Finally, Suzanne Bayer encouraged people to go to Ele’s Place if they are going through a situation or know of someone suffering from a loss. Ele’s Place provides a variety of services and has a staff of licensed social workers.
Hannah Posadny, a senior studying Early Childhood Education and the president of the Association for the Education of Young Children, says that childhood grief is something that is inevitable as an educator. “This is going to happen,” Posadny said. “Whether it be the death of an animal or the death of a family member, it’s something that comes across people of any age level. We’re going to have to deal with this, whether we’re prepared or not.”
More information about Suzanne Bayer and her workshops can be found on her website, suzannejbayer.com.