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I am new to the site and don't know if this question exactly falls into the domain of this site.

We have a group of volunteers in our university who go to a school in a nearby village to teach. Some time back, one of our former volunteers who taught for a short period of time committed suicide.

The kids were a little acquainted with him and so after some discussion, we told them about the incident. Some of them couldn't remember who he was and demanded to see a photo. The next day when we went to them, they asked for the photo as if it was some kind of novelty. Sadly, we didn't have his photo with us. But what happened later truly horrified us. One of the girls started singing in a funny way something along the lines of "Suicide . . . suicide" and others laughed along with her. We did punish them by sending the particular student out of the class.

Now, we aren't sure how to explain to them why what they did was wrong and insensitive. The kids are in grades 6-8 or ages 11-14. If any of you can help, we would be truly grateful.

EDIT : A few weeks ago, we had put up a stall in the university festival to collect money in order to build a library for the kids. They were also there with us. The death of the volunteer occurred a few days before the festival and we have decided to name the library after him. So, this makes the situation worse because there is no point in naming it after him if they do not understand the reason behind it.

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    Do your volunteers have the same cultural background as the village? – Calvin Smythe Mar 7 '18 at 19:45
  • @CalvinSmythe Quite the opposite. Most of us grew up in highly urbanized societies. – Yashbhatt Mar 8 '18 at 7:33
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Children sometimes react in counterintuitive ways to things that bother them. A fascination or inappropriate response to things that are scary, or gross, or otherwise boundary-pushing is not uncommon, especially in this age range.

Particularly since it sounds as though the children didn't know him well or remember him, it's not surprising they didn't have an emotional response. Instead of trying to make them feel sad, you might talk to them a little bit about what he meant to you, and how the situation makes you feel. Maybe you might even ask them to suggest ways to honor your friend's memory.

Unless they've encountered death for themselves, children don't have a context for it, so they don't understand it or conceptualize it the same way adults do. We might naturally expect them to feel empathy, but if they don't have anything in their own experience to compare it to, they won't. That's why I suggest sharing your grief with them --it's a way to help them learn how another person feels in this situation. It may even help them in the future when they have to deal with their own losses. Even if they don't feel sad themselves, they can learn to respect someone else's sadness.

  • "Maybe you might even ask them to suggest ways to honor your friend's memory." Interesting of you to mention this. Please see my edit. – Yashbhatt Mar 8 '18 at 14:21
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    I think you need to separate your reaction from the children's. If you want to honor your friend (for instance by naming a library) that seems perfectly fine. Or, if you want to give the children ownership over their own library by leaving the name up to them, that is also fine. But don't expect that the children will automatically feel your grief, or make the decisions you would make, or find the things meaningful that you find meaningful. The most you can do is help them understand how you feel and why. – Chris Sunami Mar 8 '18 at 14:41
  • What I'm surprised at is not they don't feel sad because they didn't know the person well. But why would they laugh off at anyone's death? – Yashbhatt Mar 8 '18 at 14:54
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    Unless they've encountered death for themselves, children don't have a context for it, so they don't understand it or conceptualize it the same way adults do. We might naturally expect them to feel empathy, but if they don't have anything in their own experience to compare it to, they won't. That's why I suggest sharing your grief with them --it's a way to help them learn how another person feels in this situation. It may help them in the future when they have to deal with their own losses. – Chris Sunami Mar 8 '18 at 15:29
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Parent's Job, Not Yours

You are expecting kids that young to understand the gravity and permanence of death and express empathy for somebody they did not have a meaningful personal relationship with. Most adults are going to have assorted issues with accomplishing that, kids are not even going to be in the ballpark of what you are expecting out of them right now. Kids simply aren't going to care about something that doesn't directly effect them, and that's totally normal. Unless it their pet, a direct family member, or a close personal friend they aren't going to have anything even resembling contextual understanding to care much. Trying to force them to act like you want will simply have them miming how you are acting because that what they think you want from them. Additionally, if you start trying to force them to behave the way you think they ought to one or more sets of parents are probably going to want to have a word with you and your supervisor. I understand you may be grieving, but trying to force children to feel and act the same way you do is simply not the way you should be coping with this tragedy. Furthermore, its not your right to raise somebody else's kids, its up to the parents and if you transgress this I guarantee you the outcome will be a group of angry parents going to whoever is in charge of you seeking your dismissal. You are there to educate them, not raise them. Lets kids be kids and let their parents raise them, focus on carrying on your friend's legacy with honor by educating them in their ABCs and 123's to the best of your ability.

Let kid's learn about death and grief at whatever pace their parents are comfortable with.

  • We don't want to force them to feel anything and hence the question. I understand they won't feel for someone they didn't know but I want them to understand why them making fun of it was hurtful to us. – Yashbhatt Mar 12 '18 at 10:47

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