Helping Children Cope With Grief
How Educators Can Help Kids
Schools play a major role in children’s lives, and after a death — either a death in the family or in the extended school community — it is natural to expect that kids may experience grief that impacts their time at school or their ability to do schoolwork. Here are some guidelines for teachers and school psychologists on how to help make sure students feel supported and are coping in a healthy way.
- Return to routine. Help students return to a normal routine as soon as possible. Kids of all ages do better when they know what to expect, and routine makes them feel safe and reassures them that the adults are in control and keeping them safe. If it’s one child who has suffered a loss, work with that child’s parents or caregivers to resume a normal routine as much as possible even if it means modifying classroom work and/or homework for a period of time while the child is still grieving.
- Be alert. Teachers should watch for signs that a child might be struggling and need extra help. Kids who are unable to function in the classroom, withdraw from friends, display behavior problems or seem to be experiencing intense sadness, fear or anger should be referred to a guidance counselor or school psychologist who should work with the parents to get the child professional help. Other signs a child may need help include physical manifestations of intense grief, including headaches, stomachaches, intense fatigue or inability to concentrate.
- Memorialize. For kids who are school-age (at least six or older), some kind of age-appropriate memorial is a helpful way to remember a teacher, administrator or student who has died. They should be kept relatively brief and tailored by grade level. A guidance counselor or school psychologist is often the best person to organize this kind of event with input from the family of the person who died.
- Stay in touch. Teachers and the school administration should stay in touch with parents in the days and weeks after the death has occurred. Parents should be kept up-to-date about the school’s programs and activities so they can be prepared for discussions that may continue at home.