Should we teach children about death in school?
NAFD President John Adams has launched a parliamentary petition calling for all school age children to be taught about death, dying and bereavement in schools as part of compulsory PHSE.
I lost my Mother, Maria, when I was 12 years of age. The experience gave me a heightened level of compassion and I feel passionately about involving children in funerals and in the grieving process.
On average 111 children in the UK lose a parent every day. And although schools provide a key support mechanism for bereaved children, pupils are unlikely to have spent any time learning about death and grief in the safe space of the classroom ahead of the bereavement. Many schools do not have any form of procedure in place when a student suffers a close loss.
It is our belief at the National Association of Funeral Directors that Schools should be required to provide age-appropriate education to help children understand death as a part of life, and they must be properly resourced to support all children who suffer a bereavement.
For a child, their immediate family is their life – and despite us wanting to protect children from sadness and loss, we can’t avoid this part of living.
When I arrange funerals I try to incorporate younger members of families into the arrangements and listen to what they need. They may not want to be involved, but they can have a choice. With the right information and education, younger people can be empowered, resulting in a more positive way forward after the funeral has taken place.
Before the funeral
But I belive there is a lot we can do before we get to a funeral. That’s why I’ve set up a petition asking for all schools to be required to provide age-appropriate education to help children understand death as a part of life, as part of compulsory relationships education. We can’t take away the pain of someone dying, but having the discussions before children suffer a loss will mean that they at least have important knowledge in place beforehand.
Age-appropriate conversations in the classroom can help to dispel some of the fear and anxiety that children naturally feel when they experience a person close to them dying. Death is depicted in cartoons, in books and films but children are rarely included in discussions about dying and grief, leaving them isolated and bewildered when faced with the loss of a loved one. Discussions around how characters in their stories may feel when they suffer a loss, like in many Disney films, is simply providing clarity at what can be a confusing time – let’s help remove the grey areas!
Another important effect would be introducing more compassion and empathy into the classrooms throughout the UK. It would help teachers support and communicate with students, and signpost them to further help if needed. It would contribute to a more positive society with a higher level of kindness throughout.
Teaching children about death is more important than ever
Recent events such as death of HRH Queen Elizabeth and the pandemic, have increased awareness of death and dying for a whole generation of young children. During the long lockdown periods, where children were mostly at home with their parents, they were exposed to the 24-hour news cycle including the reporting of daily death rates at certain times. Talking about death can be particularly helpful for children and young people, and issues of bereavement, death and dying should be compulsory learning for children in preparation for life as an adult.
Children are taught about how life begins through the compulsory PHSE elements of the national curriculum, and we should not shy away from equipping young people with the necessary skills and information to comprehend life ending.
Equipping all young people with the skills to comprehend loss, and preparing them for the emotions and feelings that accompany a death – which at some point in life we all have to do – can only result in a more positive way of living for all of society.
Response to the petition
The response in the short space of time since the petition went live has been overwhelming and it has highlighted the high level of grief being carried by society. I’ve had numerous people getting in touch about the initiative, and many people are now sharing their experiences of when they suffered a loss at a young age.
Despite the sadness that surrounds death, the experience we go through can be better – and now you can help.