Supporting Grieving Students

How to Support Grieving Children in a School Setting

1. Children have difficulty accepting the reality of a death due to:

  • Lack of experience with death and death related concepts
  • Immature thought processes leading  to disbelief and confusion
  • Euphemistic language that can be confusing and misleading. Talk about death in plain, age-appropriate language.
    • Instead of saying, “We lost Daddy today” say, “Daddy died”.
    • Instead of saying “your Mommy was very sick and she died” use the name for the cause of death (i.e.: breast cancer, brain hemorrhage, etc.)

2. Encourage parents/guardians to be truthful about the circumstances of the death.

  • Children will inevitably find out the truth
  • Better to find out from the parent/guardian than to hear the news some other way
  • Not telling the child the truth will impact their ability to trust

3. Get permission from the child to break the news to student body

  • Some children appreciate not having to be the one to tell their peers
  • Other children prefer for it to remain private for fear of being “different”

4. Children appreciate a show of support from school staff & students

  • Encourage attendance at funeral or memorial services
  • Collect handmade cards from their peers to deliver to the family

5. Identify staff person who the child can go to for support during school

  • Meet with child to discuss ways they can cope during the school day
  • Offer to listen when they need to talk, to draw or read grief related books.

6. Advocate for students when their grief impacts their academic or social performance

  • May not be prepared to resume class work during initial weeks
  • Identify students who can bring the child assignments prior to their return to school
  • Explore whether tutoring is necessary to help them catch up on missed work
  • Some children require professional help from a licensed therapist to adjust to life without the deceased.

7. Know that grief is a lifelong process so student records should indicate the need for ongoing support in the second and third year etc.

  • Birthdays, anniversaries and holidays are difficult times for grieving students
  • Other transitions and secondary losses may trigger anniversary reactions.

8. Offer to give the parent/guardian referrals to OUR HOUSE Grief Support Center or organize an OUR HOUSE Grief Support Group for your school.

© OUR HOUSE Grief Support Center

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