Counselor offers tips for dealing with students’ deaths

The slayings of Darnell Holt and Daniel Nailor were a shock to everyone at their Villa Park schools, Willowbrook High and Albright Junior High. For many students, this may be their first time experiencing a great loss.

Rosemarie Cohen, bereavement coordinator for Adventist St. Thomas Hospice in Hinsdale, said there are guidelines parents should use when helping teens and adolescents navigate through grief. The hospice serves clients in DuPage, eastern Kane, northern Will and western Cook counties.

“Teens will most likely find the support from their peer group,” she said. “And that’s a good thing, but that doesn’t mean the parents are not part of the equation.”

For parents trying to help their children navigate through their emotions, Cohen offers these ideas:

Invite conversation: “Parents should invite their children to tell them about the memorial services. Ask if they know these children. What were they like? Did they have classes with them? Even if they don’t share a lot, it’s good for kids just knowing the communication is still there and the parents are there.”

Confront fear: “This kind of tragedy kind of reawakens the fear that something could happen to our own family. Parents might tell the kids that — even though this was an isolated situation and you don’t know why people do bad things — you’re doing your best to ensure their safety. It also might be understandable if parents feel like they want to be a bit more diligent for a while due to that renewed fear. Help kids understand why you might want to check in with them more.”

Respect privacy: “There is that need to be with their friends, or to sit in their room and think what life will be like without this person in it. That’s part of coping. They may need time to write, listen to music, sort thoughts. But if they’re spending an inordinate amount of time isolated, then you need to be alert and try something as simple as taking them out for food so you can check in.”

Be aware: “It’s often hard to know what qualifies as unusual behavior for teens and adolescents, but you know your child. If they are behaving in a way that is of concern, that’s definitely something you need to check out with them or perhaps with a school counselor. For some children, the way they are affected is going to be determined by how close they were to the victims. Acquaintances, might just experience shock. But it will likely be harder if they were close with them.”

Teach manners: “As the memorial services approach, any students who will attend may need to be taught about appropriate behavior at a wake or funeral. This includes customs like only visiting the casket once to pay respects, instead of repeated visits that could cause them to become highly emotional. Many students might not know the protocol, since this could be their first experience.”

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