Farm­ing­ton Coun­selor Helps Chil­dren Deal With Grief

Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - FRONT PAGE - By Mark Humphrey

FARM­ING­TON — Karla Long, coun­selor at Fol­som El­e­men­tary in Farm­ing­ton, cre­ates mem­ory books with stu­dents who have lost a par­ent to pre­serve fam­ily his­tory.

If the sur­viv­ing par­ent, or even the de­ceased par­ent prior to death, has helped chil­dren col­lect mem­o­ries this is very ben­e­fi­cial.

“One of the things that I do is a mem­ory book,” Long said. “One of the things that both­ers them is that they can’t re­mem­ber things about that par­ent. They passed away when they were real young.”

Long is one of many area teach­ers who has re­ceived an honor this year from Fayetteville Cham­ber of Com­merce, called the “Above & Be­yond Award.” Sam’s Fur­ni­ture spon­sors the award and is hand­ing them out to teach­ers in Wash­ing­ton County school dis­tricts each month.

Long was rec­og­nized for her work ad­dress­ing grief is­sues with stu­dents.

Shan­non Cantrell, Fol­som prin­ci­pal, said Long goes above and be­yond every day with stu­dents and staff. Long meets with every class twice monthly teach­ing them what it means to have good char­ac­ter and how to put pos­i­tive char­ac­ter traits in ac­tion. She meets with stu­dents dur­ing their lunch and other times of the day.

“These groups are strate­gi­cally planned based on their needs,” Cantrell said dur­ing a De­cem­ber school board meet­ing. “For ex­am­ple, she is cur­rently meet­ing with a small group of third-graders who have all lost a par­ent trag­i­cally. She was shar­ing with me just yes­ter­day the deep con­ver­sa­tions these stu­dents are hav­ing with each other about their loss. She is truly mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in their lives.”

Long uses the re­source of a grief packet com­piled by Arkansas Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal, which she dis­trib­utes to chil­dren who have lost a par­ent.

Along with help­ing chil­dren cre­ate a mem­ory book, she said she also wants to make sure a child doesn’t ab­sorb blame for the death of a par­ent.

“Make sure the child knows that the death (of their par­ent) was in no way their fault,” Long said. “At an el­e­men­tary age chil­dren have a way of con­nect­ing that to them­selves and think­ing that they were re­spon­si­ble. So, it’s very im­por­tant to make sure they know that they weren’t re­spon­si­ble for that.”

Long cited an ex­am­ple of a par­ent en­dur­ing a bat­tle with can­cer, and the strug­gle of a young child en­deav­or­ing to sort through mixed mes­sages in the af­ter­math of the par­ent’s death.

“With lit­tle kids a lot of peo­ple will tell them the dead per­son isn’t suf­fer­ing any­more and they won­der why ev­ery­body around them is sad,” Long said. “There was a lit­tle boy who kept say­ing, ‘Why is ev­ery­body sad? She’s not suf­fer­ing any­more.’”

She noted, “Lit­tle kids en­joy the at­ten­tion that they get. It’s not un­usual for them to think this is a party be­cause of all the at­ten­tion that they get, all the food that is brought to them and all the at­ten­tion.”

Long em­pha­sizes that caregivers tell chil­dren all their feel­ings are OK.

“It’s OK to be sad, but you don’t have to be sad. You can en­joy the food. Lit­tles un­der­stand a lit­tle of it at a time.”

Long per­ceives this lack of com­pre­hen­sion among young chil­dren as a gift be­cause they aren’t forced to con­front the re­al­ity of the fu­ture im­me­di­ately.

“When I know that a par­ent has re­li­gious be­liefs I tell par­ents of­ten, ‘Just look at that as God’s gift,’” Long said. “Work through it with them as they grow. Teach them a lot about death a lit­tle at a time.”

Teenagers who lose a par­ent need as much sup­port as younger chil­dren, Long said.

“Re­al­ize this isn’t go­ing to be a one week or a one month process,” Long said. “He’s go­ing to need some peo­ple that are there for the long run.”

Long be­lieves in most cases school coun­selors want to be there and avail­able to be sup­port­ive, but at the same time, they don’t want to be in­tru­sive. “It’s im­por­tant for par­ents to re­al­ize that school coun­selors are a good source of help and not to be afraid to ask school coun­selors for help,” she added.

It’s eas­ier at all ages to be mad when death oc­curs than to process the sit­u­a­tion and Long said she’s found “lit­tle kids tend to blame them­selves while older kids look for some­one else to blame.”

If chil­dren or teenagers don’t deal with blam­ing them­selves or blam­ing some­one else, those per­cep­tions can hin­der them through­out their lives. Long said there is value in ex­plor­ing those is­sues.

“Don’t blame your­self, don’t blame some­one else, let them work through it and ask (them­selves) ‘What can I do now?’”

“Make sure the

child knows that the death (of their par­ent) was in no way their fault. At an el­e­men­tary age chil­dren have a way of con­nect­ing that to them­selves and think­ing that they were re­spon­si­ble.”

Karla Long Fol­som El­e­men­tary coun­selor


Fol­som El­e­men­tary coun­selor Karla Long uses a kid-friendly en­vi­ron­ment as she works with chil­dren. She was the De­cem­ber re­cip­i­ent of the Sam’s Fur­ni­ture Above & Be­yond award. Long pro­vides a mu­tual sup­port group for three stu­dents in the same grade...

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