Talking About Feelings: Tough Conversations With Kids

As a college student preparing for a career in teaching, there are so many things that we’re not told or prepared for.   Handling tough conversations and life changing situations is one of those things no one prepares you for.   Talking about feelings and having tough conversations with students can be scary and overwhelming.  Hopefully this blog post will give you some guidance if you ever need to have a tough conversation.

Talking About Feelings:  A Death In Our School

Thursday, March 21 was a typical school day.  Everyone left at dismissal.  Thursday evening we received an email informing us that one of the teachers at our school had passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly.  To say we were shocked is an understatement.  Immediately my mind turned to my students and how they would handle the news.

The teacher that passed away was our STEM or science teacher.  My students attended his class on a weekly basis so this was something that was going to impact them in a huge way.

Our principal informed us we would gather before school as a faculty and we would receive a script to read to our students.  However, I wanted to be more prepared than a script and since this was situation was uncharted territory form,  I wanted to be more prepared.  I Googled “how to talk to kids about death” and found a very useful article from Psychology Today.

The article gave the following advice:

  1.  Tell the truth about what happened.
  2. Use the words DEAD and DIED.  (This was a big aha moment for me.  The article explains that these words help students understand what has happened.)
  3. Be prepared for a variety of emotions.
  4. Be comfortable saying “I don’t know.”
  5. Cry.
  6. Let the children grieve in their own way.

Another point the article made was to keep things consistent and as normal as possible.  This was something that I knew I had to do with my students when they arrived at school on Friday.

After reading the article I felt a little more prepared for the task ahead.

Talking About Emotions:  Telling My Students

Prior to sharing the news with my students I had a to make:  when to share the  news.  I quickly decided that our morning meeting was the perfect time to share.  Morning meeting is a safe space for us and a place where we are comforted by one another.  Morning meeting is also our usual sharing time so sharing the news at that time would be “normal” for my class.

After making that decision, I had to make a second decision.  You see, our Friday morning meeting is always broadcast LIVE on Facebook. I had to decide if this should occur on this particular Friday.   My mind went back to the article and keeping routines normal.  My students know (and love) being LIVE on Fridays so I decided to stick with our normal routine.  (Note:  I added a note in the Facebook live description explaining that we would be sharing sad news during that broadcast).

Friday morning our door opened at 7:30 and my little mustaches began arriving.  We had a very normal morning arrival.  Everyone was their usual chatty self. We ate breakfast, wrote in our journals, and read books.  At 8:00 I turned on the clean up song and we gathered for morning meeting.  Our morning meeting started just like all the others.  We did our cracking eggs greeting and sat down for sharing time.

Breaking The News

I told my students that I needed to share some sad news with them.  I immediately told them that Mr. Boone had died.  There were a few gasps and immediately a few tears.  I went on to explain that he was dead and that we didn’t know what happened.  Then I told the kids they might be sad or mad or scared and all of those feelings are OK.  I wanted them to know that having different feelings was ok.  Finally, I let them ask questions.

The questions were thoughtful questions that centered on what happened.  Unfortunately, we don’t know and I was very honest with the students about that.  They also wanted to know who would be their science teacher and I told them that our principal would find someone that would be a good science teacher.    I assured the students that we were going to get through this together and that it was ok to want to talk about their feelings.  They also were told about the people in the building who could help them if they needed to talk about their feelings and emotions.

And then we continued with morning meeting and did our activity and morning message.

Talking About Feelings:  A Picture

During that sharing time, the one question that struck me the most was when one my students asked this:  “Can we get a picture of Mr. Boone for our class so we can always remember him?”

Even now, that question fascinates me.  I am amazed by the empathy, compassion and love that is on display.   You see, other than myself and Mr. Jason, you won’t find any other adults pictures in our classroom.  Our classroom is covered with pictures of the students.  So for them to want a picture of Mr. Boone for our classroom was powerful.  This expression of grief also let me know that they considered him to be part of our classroom family and I assured them we would get a picture of Mr. Boone for our classroom.

Talking About Emotions:  The Aftermath

The students handled the news well.  They were concerned and obviously upset.  Their questions were insightful.  The rest of the day was a normal day but you could feel the weight of the grief.  My students were quiet and subdued all day long and several times they would approach and ask a question about what happened.   I was so proud of my class that day.  They allowed their emotions to show and they handed this devastating news so well.  Their concern for the family and their friends was uplifting.  Their laughter and hugs made the day easier for me as well.

Below you can watch the video of our morning meeting where we share the news of Mr. Boone’s death.  (The discussion begins at the 11 minute mark)

While I hope you never have to experience this in your classroom, I hope this post gives you a little insight on handling tough conversations with your students.

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