LEWISTOWN - Lewistown Children's Center offered grief counseling services on Monday to help students, staff and parents cope with the loss of Michael Ayers, the 2-year-old boy killed by his father on Saturday, said Jane Campbell, CEO of Snyder Union Mifflin Child Development Inc.
Before his death, Michael
attended the daycare program offered at Lewistown Children's Center.
"We've brought grief counselors into the agency and they're available for any parents or staff that might need assistance," Campbell said. "They've also provided staff with guidance materials about how to help students cope as we move forward."
Though counselors were only available at the school on Monday, anyone needing assistance will continue to receive it, Campbell said.
The main purpose of a grief counselor in such a situation is to help students and staff talk about their emotions and guide them through the grieving process, said Fred Benner, a licensed professional counselor from Lewistown.
"The school is doing the right thing by bringing in grief counselors," Benner said. "It's important to address the situation in a calm way that still maintains a sense of security for the children."
According to the National Association of School Psychologists, talking to children about death must be geared to their developmental level and sensitive to their ability to comprehend the situation. Children will be highly aware of adult reactions as they interpret and react to information about death and loss.
Specifically, children younger than five, the age range accepted at Lewistown Children's Center, may perceive that adults are sad, but have no real understanding of the meaning of death. They may also interpret death as a separation, but not a permanent condition, states "Helping Children Cope With Loss, Death and Grief," published by the National Association of School Psychologists.
Additionally, preschool children may link certain events and illogical thinking with the cause of death. For instance, as a result of the World Trade Center disaster, some children may think that going into tall buildings can cause someone's death, according to the National Association of School Psychologists.
"As the children are so young, they most likely won't remember the loss specifically," Benner said. "They are more likely to remember if things seem unsettled at home or at school. It's important for the staff and parents to maintain a regular routine moving forward so the children continue feeling safe."
Though no memorial or funeral service has been planned for Michael yet, the school has remained in contact with Hollie Ayers, Michael's mother, as she recovers at Altoona Regional Medical Center from injuries also caused by the boy's father. She is employed by the Head Start program housed within the Lewistown Children's Center.
"We are in contact with Michael's mother and something will most likely be planned after she has recovered," Campbell said. "We'll be working to coordinate with her and assist in any way we can."