Students spend an average of 6 – 8 hours a day at school, 5 days a week. Schools are special communities with deep relationships between students, teachers and staff. When any member of a school community passes away it affects the entire community.
Coping with a big loss is difficult for anyone, but especially for children. For children, having a caring adult who helps them through this process will make a big difference in the journey towards recovery. Whether you are a teacher, parent or staff member it is important to recognize the symptoms of grieving and ways you can help and support the child.
How to Help a Grieving Child
Speak and Listen
Be honest about death when speaking to children. Try to avoid euphemisms such as passed away, went to sleep, crossed over or lost, as they can confuse children. It can be very difficult to open the conversation, but openly speaking in a safe, comfortable place is important. We naturally choose to give advice to children who are grieving, but the best thing you can do is just listen. Listening to children, without offering solutions or trying to fix anything, is one of the best ways to help them feel supported.
Make sure children know that they are not alone in their grieving. Grieve together and be present for support. Offer hugs, reassurance and empathy. For many children, this may be their first experience with loss and grief. Let them know there is no right or wrong way to feel. As an adult, be patient and open-minded. Normalize the different emotions that come with grief and help them brainstorm coping strategies such as journaling. Encourage children to talk about what they are feeling in the days, weeks and even months following a loss.
Be familiar with the stages of grief and the side effects in different age groups. This site lists the symptoms and ways to help depending on the child’s age group. Common reactions include fighting, denial, mood swings, self-blame, fear of being alone, regression to early childhood behaviors, physical complaints like stomach aches or headaches, trouble sleeping, academic issues (both failures and hyper-achievement), or a lack of feelings altogether.
Seek Extra Support
If a child seems to need extra help encourage them to speak to a school counselor about what they are feeling. As a school community, parents, teachers, students and staff are all going through this grieving process together and it is important to make each other feel heard, supported and comforted at this time.
Although grieving is a very personal and individual process, we hope that this article will help you support the children in your care cope with grief in a healthy way.