8 Thoughts About Student Grief

I recently lost my mother after a long and fruitful life. My sons also lost their mom from cancer in the same time frame. Mourning is hard and grief can be unbearable.

I am reminded of the many, many times my students faced the same challenges as they began their school day and were expected to achieve.

We often have concerns about how to help our kids deal with the profound loss of death. Here are some important guidelines to consider:

  • Avoid euphemisms (like lost or asleep). Children interpret things literally.
  • Recognize that when students repeat questions, either at the time you inform them or in the weeks and months afterwards, are not as much for factual information about the death as they are for reassurance that the story hasn’t changed.
  • Predict for the child that she may feel sad and even have strange or different feelings for a while, and that you might even cry together.• Give affection affirmation and security.
  • Assure students that you’ll help them to get through it when they need help.
  • Look for ways to help students express emotions both verbally and nonverbally, like through art and play.
  • Remember and recognize that students will not react exactly the same way.
  • Realize that the child may be expressing feelings not only about the actual death itself, but also about the changes in members of the family after the death.
  • Re-tell good memories. This is very important.

The bottom line is this: kids spend as many of their waking hours and more in school. Educators are literally on the “front lines” of the childhood grief issue — and therefore have a huge opportunity and responsibility to lend support. Understanding goes a long way to their well-being and success.