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USM Social Work Students Co-Author Books to Help Children Deal with Grief

Tue, 03/03/2020 - 16:05pm | By: Van Arnold

Brave Little Mover book coverHelping children navigate the confusing, traumatic effects of grief and loss provided the impetus for several University of Southern Mississippi (USM) social work students to author a series of instructional books during the fall 2019 semester.

Under the direction of Rachel Lahasky, clinical instructor in the School of Social Work at USM, 23 students from her Grief and Bereavement class co-authored books to cover various types of losses experienced by kids age 5-9.

“These losses varied from loss of a parent, to loss of a peer, to loss of a pet, etc. Students were tasked with using their sociological imagination to break down the complex topic of grief to a child and then opening the door for a caregiver to help with these hard conversations,” said Lahasky. “Each book includes graphics and content, and the end of each book includes a list of various resources by age group for books on related topics (all the way up to adulthood).”

Students picked topics at random from an envelope at the beginning of the semester and developed their books over the course of the fall. A total of six books were completed and published through a web site Lahasky discovered.

Senior Lexis Brown, from Jayess, Miss., admits that she was initially a bit nervous and hesitant about the assignment since she had never written a book of any kind. But Brown points out that her group members helped make the process not only enjoyable, but rewarding as well. Brown helped ca-author the book, “The Brave Little Mover.”

“Knowing that there’s a child out there that will pick up this book and be able to relate to the storyline made this experience so worthwhile,” said Brown. “Being able to say I’m now an author is an added bonus.”

A similar project was launched by Lahasky’s class in 2018 with a smaller number of students participating. The books were included as part of the renowned Faye B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival held each April on USM’s Hattiesburg campus. Lahasky’s students have been invited to share their work again during this year’s festival.

Lahasky notes that all books from the current class have been distributed via email and sent to various agencies like Canopy Solutions, numerous schools, and individuals who requested books after watching the students’ presentations at last year’s Children’s Book Festival.

Senior Raevin Wade, from Los Angeles, Calif., helped co-author the book, “Memories Last Forever.” While conducting extensive research, Wade found it difficult to locate published literature on how to help children grieve the death of a friend. The project exposed to her the sobering reality of how difficult it can be for children to grieve without the proper resources.

“This experience highlighted the lack of resources for children going through a loss,” said Wade. “That is why projects such as this are so important. Because it challenges us as students to contribute to these resources.”

Discussions pertaining to grief and loss oftentimes can be awkward not only for children, but for adults who find themselves leading such conversations. Lahasky sees books as an ideal gateway to lessening the burden on both sides.

“We all experience loss in some way and as children it is often easy to be left out of the loop when a loss happens,” she said. “But, the reality is that children hear and see more than we know, and in order to decrease the risk of trauma, anxiety, depression, or just loss of trust that a child has for a caregiver, it is important that during a loss, we are honest, open and know how to respond to their questions.”

Lahasky adds: “Reading helps children and adults alike calm down, and it provides an excellent opener, if you will, for a caregiver to begin these very hard conversations with children. Most adults don’t want to have, or don’t know how to have, a conversation about death and loss with a child. But, books provide an easy way to start that conversation and break it down in an easy-to-understand message for a child of any age.”

To learn more about the School of Social Work at USM, call 601.266.4163 or visit: