New Picture When parents first realise that their child is not developing at the same rate as others is it inevitably an emotional shock. They are likely to feel genuine anguish when the process of identification of a learning difference is begun.

Staff, too, can feel diminished by their inability to support every child in their care as fully as they would like. A child whose learning is not progressing as rapidly or as deeply as expected is a blow to the self esteem of the committed teacher.

When confronting something difficult for the first time, or if the challenge happens to threaten an area of psychological weakness (for example if a parent had difficulties at school herself), then we all react fairly consistently although the degree of trauma and reaction may be more or less according to the level of difficulty or psychological make-up.

 A ‘grief cycle’ occurs at this time: from denial and anger, through bargaining, to depression and then, hopefully, to acceptance. Some people of course can remain stuck in one of the stages.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross pioneered methods in the support and counselling of personal trauma, grief and grieving, associated with death and dying. However, her ideas are transferable to personal change and emotional upset resulting from factors other than these most terrible circumstances. The ‘grief cycle’ she describes is actually a ‘change model’ for helping to understand and deal with personal reaction to grave upset.

We who work with parents need to recognise the 5 stages of grief model so that we are better equipped to deal with the anger and bitterness expressed by some parents. Sometimes this is aimed directly at us and our perceived failings and it is hard not to take it personally. A little knowledge of the cycle helps me understand it is a natural reaction to great stress and thus Kübler-Ross’ model helps remind me that the other person’s perspective is different to my own and thus enables me better to empathise and possibly help the parent move on. Consequently I need to be sensitive and allow the parent (and the child too) to pass through the stages of grief.

We teachers would be foolish to try to force this process on unnaturally or to ignore it altogether.