Many children are under the care of single parents, grandparents or other caregivers because their mothers have died, are suffering from a catastrophic illness, are incarcerated, or are serving in the military. Some of these children will never see their mothers again. When Mother’s Day arrives each May, children find themselves facing an avalanche of loss reminders in their schools, over the airwaves, and in their communities.
How can schools and families help children and teens through this challenging time? What practical ideas and suggestions can make these grieving children feel included?
Practical Tips for Educators and Schools
As we approach May and June, we need to recognize that the events of the season (including Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and graduations) affect students in a variety of ways. Teachers and schools must be aware of how students might react, and seek to promote inclusion and create a safe space in the classroom.
How can we make schools more sensitive to loss reminders triggered by preparations for Mother’s Day? Here are some suggestions for teachers and schools:
- First, be mindful of your own experiences and thoughts, and how our personal histories can influence what we do in the classroom.
- Create a physical classroom environment that is safe and comfortable for all students:
- focus on themes like the diversity of the 21st century family, cultural differences, and resilience.
- If creative writing and art opportunities are offered or assigned to students in honor of Mother’s Day, rename the assignment using the words “family” or “special people in my life.”
- Honor the special people in a child’s life by creating opportunities to take positive action in school or community projects.
- Mother’s Day was founded to honor those who died in WWI and to help bring about peace. Explore the origins of the holiday to help children gain perspective and become more empathetic towards others.
- Consider a school-wide policy change that creates new ways to honor people in a student’s life and the activities/events that celebrate them. For example, rename events like the “Father-Daughter Dance” and involve the students in the process.
- Keep the lines of communication open through your availability and accessibility; be honest and supportive.
- Be aware of how your students react and cope with potentially difficult subjects and recognize the children who are likely to be in the greatest need. If you have concerns about a student, don’t hesitate to speak to someone.
Practical Tips for Families
Families must recognize the significance of Mother’s Day for everyone and how it can affect each person in a very different way. For example, siblings grieving the loss of a parent may display completely different responses, although they are in the same family.
Consider these suggestions for coping with the challenges of Mother’s Day:
- Practice self-care. Whether this is the first Mother’s Day without a loved one, or the 21st, we continue to react to the reminders of our relationship with this important individual. Consider journaling, or telling your own story to the child in your life who is missing his or her own mother.
- Talk to each other about the day ahead of time. Make a plan; don’t just wait for it to "pass."
- Take special care to help children celebrate with new traditions.
- Think about reframing the purpose of the holiday itself. Reframing can allow the loss reminder to become a cause to reach out to others. Reframing allows the family to honor their mother and do something meaningful beyond greeting cards. The day becomes purposeful, and allows the children to gain perspective.
- Consider the impact of a loss on all generations and genders. Even a young mother may be remembering her own motherless childhood or young adulthood. Share thoughts and feelings with each other. We grieve not only for the one who has died but also for the relationship that was or could have been.
- Focus on empathy. Talk about it at home and what it means in our lives.