Understanding Loss

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Many children in early years settings experience the loss of a parent and they all need support, says Professor Cathy Nutbrown


Professor Cathy Nutbrown

As the red poppies fell at the Festival of Remembrance on Saturday evening, one poppy for every member of the armed services killed during military action, they drew a blanket of quiet thought over those assembled.

I began to think about the children of those men and women who had died, and I remembered Jason who, many years ago now, attended the nursery where I worked. I recalled the day that we heard the news that Jason’s dad had been killed while on a tour of duty. For me, Jason is still just three years old, but by now he may well have a partner and children of his own.

Jason’s grief was not always visible – I was never sure from one day to the next how he was feeling, and nor was his mum. But I do know that many of us felt uncertain as to how to respond to or support Jason. Carrying on as if nothing had happened seemed wrong, but doing or saying something felt wrong too. There is a growing body of work by academics and charities that helps professionals, and families to support children who experience the death of a parent. And the statistics suggest that this is much needed.

There are many children who experience the loss of a parent, some through the tragedy of death – as a result of military action, through illness or accident – and they will all need support of some kind. Many children in pre-school settings and schools experience the loss of a parent and they all need support. An estimated 309,000 school-age children across the UK are bereaved by the death of a parent each year.

As professionals, we can remain mindful that there are young children who have someone missing in their lives, and we can seek to learn something of how to support children under such circumstances.

Among the red poppies, this year I saw several people wearing a white poppy too. Established as a peace symbol by the Co-operative Women’s Guild in 1933 the white poppy serves to remind us that in resolving human conflict, we can strive for peace – and this is what we need to teach our children.

As Einstein said, ‘Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.’ As human beings, if we understand each other we are less likely to want to fight each other.

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