The Parents’ Independent School Network, Inc. (PIN) is a volunteer group of parents with children currently enrolled at New England-area independent schools. This month's report is actually a synopsis from the final PIN lecture of the 2010-2011 year.
The speaker at this meeting was Maria Trozzi, M.Ed., author, assistant professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine, director of the Good Grief Program at Boston Medical Center, and a consultant to Children's Hospital. She is also, it turns out, a friend of Erika Guy’s and has worked with Nobles to develop programs for bereaved students.
Trozzi’s specialty is student suicide and grief. In the course of her work, she provided guidance to families at Columbine High School in Colorado and to families and schools affected by the World Trade Center attacks.
Among Trozzi’s many observations were two that were particularly valuable and unexpected. First, when tragedy strikes, it is important that kids stick to their daily routines. While it may be tempting to cancel classes or excuse children from class when, for example, a suicide occurs, she strongly recommends that kids at least go through the motions. It helps send the message that everything else is o.k., and life will go on. She said grieving students should be told, “You are expected to come to algebra class, but you don’t have to actually think about math.” This approach also avoids the risk of fetishizing the suicide, when the attention it garners can begin to look attractive.
Second, Trozzi said that when a classmate commits suicide, kids desperately want to understand why. Trozzi said that the common response, “S/he was depressed,” is actually not useful. Many kids experience sadness and depression, so such an explanation can be confusing or frightening. Instead, she recommended saying, “That girl/boy was not a good problem solver in that situation,” and then discuss the various ways s/he could have handled the problem, e.g., sought help from a parent or counselor, talked to a friend, or waited for emotion to subside. This kind of approach rightly recognizes that kids face problems, and that problem solving is the skill for handling them. Trozzi put it memorably: “Kids should be told: Romeo and Juliet were not good problem solvers.” A gem of contemporary advice we hope none of us ever needs.
Allison Matlack, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lee Collins, email@example.com