All difficulties have one thing in common-hurt. It could be suicide, stillbirth, abuse, cancer, hurricane, fire, flood, murder, accident etc. Or it could be bullying, experiencing a profound disappointment or being ostracized. The old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is not true-words do hurt-oftentimes for much longer than it takes a physical wound to heal. In a little book for children named The Hurt, written by Teddi Doleski, the main character, Justin becomes hurt by his friend’s words. His response and ultimate healing is a helpful lesson for everyone no matter what form their hurt takes. I’ve used it a number of times with a single child, groups of children and even teenagers with positive results.
In the story Justin’s heart-wound feels to him like a hard cold rock. He withdraws from his family and friends. He continually examines his hurt until it becomes huge and unmanageable. The hard cold rock of hurt becomes so large Justin begins to believe it will take over his entire bedroom or even the entire world! Finally he makes the decision to seek help by talking with his dad. As he tells his dad what happened he finds his hurt becoming smaller. Together he and his dad come up with some ideas. As he begins to act on his ideas, he finds the hard cold rock of hurt getting smaller and more manageable. He decides to get rid of the hurt altogether by pushing the remainder of it out his bedroom window. The next time he feels hurt he will apply the coping skills he learned. His feelings of hurt will become more manageable. Each time he faces a difficult situation; he applies these life skills and becomes a stronger, healthier person. Here are some added tips if you find yourself in the position to help one child or a group of kids with some difficult news:
1- Gather the children together whether it’s your family, school classroom, play group, Boy or Girl scout troupe, church related or any other group that has been personally effected in some way.
2- Tell the basic facts without evaluating them. Begin with words like these: There has been an accident. Tell who it was, how it happened and what the outcome was.
3- Next, offer to answer the children’s questions. Answer them as honestly and simply as you can. If you don’t know the answer, be sure to say, “I don’t know.” Never make things up. You can also ask, what do you think?”
4- Tell the story of The Hurt. Give the children permission to feel all different kinds of feelings. Remind them that feelings are not right or wrong, they just are. One time a child named Billy died in an accident. One of the children told the class that he was glad Billy died so now he wouldn’t bother him anymore. This gives you permission to help the rest of the class explore both positive and negative thoughts.
5- Encourage the kids to share memories. Telling stories of memories begins to lighten the mood. Many times everyone ends up laughing at some special memory.
6- When you sense the children are ready to move on in the conversation, explore how others might be feeling. Then direct the conversation to how the class or group can help the grieving family.
7- The children will probably suggest making cards. You can ask them what words they would use. Guide the discussion to offer appropriate caring words. Encourage them to include some of the memories they shared during group time in their cards.
One last tip: No matter how horrible the tragedy, (9/11 comes to mind), look for the love. Very soon after the tragedy you will see caring people coming.
In the front of the line is the emergency crew, those who come in when others go out. Then, civilians are close behind. They bring flowers, cards, candles, prayers, hugs, teddy bears and listening ears. Love always prevails in the most difficult of circumstances train your eyes and heart to watch for it and be sure to point it out to the children in your care. Difficult times are all about supporting one another. People can get through the worst of times together.
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