While “Back to School” can be viewed as a positive time of new beginnings and reconnecting with old friends it can be fraught with challenges for you and your grieving child. Regardless of when the person died, the school setting may elicit memories or reminders of that person. This can trigger a variety of grief responses, including sadness, anger, loneliness and fear.
The following is a list of considerations if your child has experienced the death of someone close:
You will need to prepare your child for the inevitable questions about the absence of a parent or sibling.
- Other children will want to know where that person is if they used to be present at school, or in their lives.
- Offer your child suggestions about ways to respond to these questions including being truthful and direct, or ignoring the question and the pros and cons of each.
Inform the school’s counselor, psychologist or principal that your child has experienced a death and may need extra support, both academically and socially. This is because:
- Once a grieving child always a grieving child. There is no time limit.
- Grief will resurface as each new developmental stage arises.
Identify who at school the child can speak with when he experiences a “grief tsunami,” is unable to focus in class, or has a peer conflict.
- Then encourage your child to seek out support from that person when needed. If no one is available, consider grief counseling or therapy as needed
Consider which needs may be unmet in the absence of the person who died.
- Then identify who can help you meet those needs. For example, your child may need help with homework, making lunches, shopping for supplies, carpooling or finding someone to walk with to school and home and more.
Empower your child with language to use when bullied or teased.
- Grieving children are frequently the target of bullies who can find the most vulnerable child to pick on.
- They may taunt your child verbally, physically and even ostracize them.
- Former friends may even choose to play with other children who “aren’t as sad” further isolating your child. For example your child can respond to that statement by saying “you’d be sad if your dad died too.”
Transitions may be difficult.
- Your child may have trouble coping with new schedules, bedtime, leaving and returning home.
- Children may have to go home to an empty house or participate in a new after school program in that person’s absence.
Separation anxiety may resurface regardless of the age of your child making it harder for your child to be away from you during the day.
- Grieving children are concerned that you, themselves or someone else may die while separated during the school day.
- Structure and consistency will help them feel safer in the world.
Remember to take care of yourself. Your child’s ability to cope will be impacted by how well you are coping.
For information about grief support programs in your community visit OurHouse-Grief.org or call 310.473.1511 or our toll free number 888.417.1444.
Lauren Schneider, LCSW is the Clinical Director of Child and Adolescent Programs at OUR HOUSE Grief Support Center in Los Angeles.
She is an authority on children’s grief and the author of “Children Grieve Too: a handbook for parents of grieving children” as well as “My Memory Book…for grieving children.”