Grief is a natural condition that most people will eventually experience at some stage of their lives when losing someone or something they love, but it can be quite difficult to know how to help children cope with the loss, especially when parents are trying to work through their own bereavement. The organisation Child Bereavement UK is launching a nationwide campaign encouraging teachers to give children lessons on how to overcome grief when the worst happens with a parent or a sibling.
About 550 schools have opted to add the topic of death to their curriculum and to talk to thousands of children aged three and over about how to deal with death. In order to make the subject more understandable, teachers will use elephants to help children better understand the concept. Pupils will be told that when an elephant dies the rest of the herd is sad, demonstrating this feeling by gathering around the body and refusing to leave it. Teachers will also use the idea of elephants never forgetting as a way to talk about memories of family members or even pets that have died.
Some parents may not like the idea of involving their children in conversations about such delicate issues in class, but the idea behind the campaign is to increase awareness about how these topics can be discussed in a non-threatening manner, Ann Chalmers, the charity's CEO, said.
Jonathan Perry, headteacher at Lambrook School near Ascot, Berkshire, said it was surprising to see that children are much better at coping with such issues than adults, perceiving death in a mature way and handling the classes well.
Each year, some 24,000 children in the UK lose a parent. Over one in 30 children suffer the death of a family member and one in 16 loses a close friend.