How teachers and schools can help

School faculty and staff spend a significant amount of time with our children and are uniquely equipped to partner with parents and guardians in supporting children after a death of a family member or close friend.  Because their level of involvement with a child may vary by age, it is important that parents communicate with teachers and administration regarding the death, the child's level of knowledge and involvement about the death and the person, any behavioral changes that have been noted after the death, and any desires, within reason, that parents would like accommodated by the school.  Parents may find benefit in attending one of Ele's Place's parent groups for support as they navigate the issues of caring for a grieving child. 

Tips for Teachers and Other School Personnel

Please note that these tips are not one-fit-all.  Be sure to communicate with parents if you have any concerns regarding one of your students. 

  • Communicate early and often with the child's parent or guardian
  • Prepare the child's classmates by telling them about the death, allowing time for them to talk about their own feelings and losses, and brainstorming ways to help the child
  • Send a note home with all classmates informing parents of the death and your plan for addressing it in the classroom.
  • Acknowledge the child's loss
  • Let the child know that you are available to listen, and make time to listen if the child wants to talk
  • Allow the child to leave the room when he or she is overwhelmed - provide a safe space
  • Allow for visits to the school nurse, calls home, etc. if the child needs those reassurances
  • Maintain routines and rules in the classroom
  • Be prepared to provide extra help or adjust your expectations somewhat for the grieving child
  • Allow and encourage physical outlets
  • Be aware that holidays and anniversaries may be especially difficult for the child.  Plan for how you can help the child acknowledge the loss.
  • Encourage parents to inform their child's subsequent teachers of the loss
  • Nurture the emotional intelligence of your students by identifying feelings and encouraging empathy
  • Acknowledge and commemorate all losses that occur in the classroom or school community
  • Integrate loss and grief concepts into the curriculum
  • Provide books that deal with loss issues and feeling

How many of your students are touched by grief?

The US Census suggests that 1 in 20 children will experience the death of a parent by the time they reach the age of 18.  Further, 9 out of 10 children will experience the death of a family member or close friend by the time they graduate high school.  Further studies by the JAG Institute indicate that 1 in 12 children in Michigan will experience the death of a       parent or sibling by age 18 (higher than the national average of 1 in 15).  In Michigan, that means that over 2 million children and teenagers will have experience death before they reach adulthood.       

Professional literature suggests that unaddressed grief may lead to poor academic and social performance:

“In varying degrees, bereaved students may see themselves as helpless in coping with a loss which can result in increased episodes of daydreaming, withdrawing from peers, and decrease in academic performance.”

–R.G. Stevenson, Ed.D., 1994

Students grieving the death of someone close to them can experience:

  • Regressive behaviors
  • Changes in grades
  • Concentration difficulties
  • Withdrawal
  • Impulsive and high-risk behaviors
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Mood Swings

-Children’s Grief Education Association

Additional resources:   

"After a Suicide: A Toolkit for Schools."