by David J. Schonfeld, Marcia Quackenbush, Baltimore, MD, Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. Inc., 2010, 208 pp, Paperback, $29.95
The reading of this book coincided with several events in my personal and professional lives that were relevant to the topic at hand: the father of one of my adolescent son's friends tragically died from a heart attack in the presence of his family; it was the 9th anniversary of the September 11 attacks; the mother of an 8-year-old patient e-mailed me to inform me that the child's grandmother, her primary caregiver, suddenly died. As I pen this review, we recently buried the grandmother of my children's friend. This book has come right on time.
In The Grieving Student: A Teacher's Guide, Schonfeld and Quackenbush provide teachers practical guidelines for supporting students and families who have lost loved ones, taking culture and religious concerns into consideration. This book is informative and eloquently explains the natural processes that grieving children experience, based on the authors' years of experience in the field of child grief and sound research.
The Grieving Student is well organized and well written. The authors use case vignettes to make their suggestions meaningful. The book defines vocabulary to help teachers and school officials build their knowledge of the subject matters of death and grieving. The introductory chapters lay the foundation for the remainder of the book by stating why all teachers need skills to help grieving students, explaining how children understand death, and describing how children are affected by death in a variety of scenarios. The authors acknowledge challenges teachers and schools face when attempting to support grieving students; it provides suggestions for overcoming some of the challenges.
The middle chapters of The Grieving Student impart direction for teachers and school officials to support and communicate effectively with the child and family in the immediate wake of the tragedy and in the long term. Each chapter provides bullet points and boxed-in text where specific take-home messages are made clear. This facilitates readability as well.
The final chapters of the book address unique circumstances teachers and school officials should be aware of, including suggestions for supporting seriously ill students within a student body. The book ends by giving educators specific steps for monitoring their own needs when they experience grief and the potential stressors that accompany supporting their students who are grieving. The end of the book offers references and a study guide that reviews the key concepts explained throughout the book.
In my experience with The Grieving Student, the book can be read in any order because themes are reinforced throughout the book. Therefore, readers could potentially start with specific chapters that are germane to their immediate needs. If there is a recurrent theme in this book, what I gather is that teachers are on the front lines and are well positioned to be trained to support grieving students. Knowledge about the “Four Basic Concepts of Death” is an important way of helping children better understand the process of death.
I highly recommend this book for all schools and professionals, including pediatricians and child psychologists, who work directly with children. This book is an excellent guide with tools that can be immediately incorporated into daily interactions with children in any setting. In fact, I have recommended this book to friends and colleagues who are educators and school officials. I have implemented a number of the suggestions into my own practice when working with grieving families. After reading The Grieving Student, I feel better equipped to provide guidance to grieving children and their families.
Adiaha Spinks Franklin, MD, MPH, FAAP
Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician; Texas Children's Hospital/Baylor
College of Medicine