FOR TEACHERS - Helping Our Students Deal with Loss & Grief
INFORMATION TO KNOW
The death of someone close may cause confusion for many months or even years.
There is no timetable. Grief experiences recur throughout life.
Each child is different and copes with grief in his/her own unique way.
Guidelines to understand developmental stages, comprehension and understanding of death.
- 5 and under – limited understanding of death, view death as magical, a reversible state and temporary.
- 5 – 9 – beginning to grasp finality of death, still magical thinking and believe that thoughts and wishes could undo or prevent death.
- 9 – 12 – death is viewed as occurring for everyone, a definitive state, inevitable, irreversible and universal.
You may observe the following symptoms and stages of coping.
- Denial, separation anxiety, regressive behaviors, complaints about illness, withdrawal, anger, aggression, guilt, replacement, idealization, depression, panic and acceptance.
Create structure and routine to experience predictability and stability.
Provide reassurance that they are safe.
Provide reassurance that you want to understand their feelings and needs.
Allow for opportunities to be heard – be prepared to discuss the loss repeatedly.
Provide honest answers:
- Listen patiently for the issue.
- Address only that issue at an appropriate developmental level.
- Avoid detail and explanations.
Allow for creative self-expression (drawings and journaling).
Limit exposure to adult conversation and media.
Allow for opportunities to help others.
Be aware of your own feelings and need to grieve.
Don’t assume that every child in a certain age group understands death in the same way or with the same feelings.
Don’t lie or tell half-truths to children about the tragic event.
Don’t assume that children always grieve in an orderly or predictable way.
STATEMENTS TO EXPRESS SYMPATHY
WHAT TO SAY
I’m sad for you.
How are you doing with all of this?
I don’t know why it happened.
What’s the hardest part for you?
You must really be hurting.
Take as much time as you need.
I’m here, and I want to listen.
Thank you for sharing your feelings.
WHAT NOT TO SAY
Death was a blessing.
It was God’s will.
It all happened for the best.
Something good will come out of this.
I understand how you feel.
It’s time to put it behind you now.
He/she led a full life.
RESOURCES – Books
Gootman, M.E. (2005). When a Friend Dies: A book for teens about grieving and healing. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing.
Greenlee, S. (1992). When Someone Dies. Atlanta: Peachtree Publishing.
Wolfelt, A. (2001). Healing Your Grieving Heart for Kids. Ft. Collins, CO: Companion.
Wolfelt, A. (1997). Healing the Bereaved Child: Grief gardening, growth through grief and other touchstones for caregivers. Ft. Collins, CO: Companion.
RESOURCES – Websites
American Hospice Foundation: www.americanhospice.org
Compassionate Friends: www.compassionatefriends.org
National Association of School Psychologists: www.nasponline.org
Andrey, Susan. A Teacher’s Guide for the Grieving Student. Handout Complied by Junior League of Your and York Mental Health Services.
Death and Grief: Supporting Children and Youth. (2001). National Association of School Psychologists. Retrieved from www.nasponline.org.
Helping Children Cope with Loss, Death and Grief: Tips for Teachers and Parents. (2001). National Association of School Psychologists. Retrieved from www.nasponline.org.
Overbeck, B. & Overbeck, J. (1995). Handout Compiled by TLC Group, Dallas, Texas. Adapted from: What to do When Someone Dies.
Schonfield, D. J. & Quackenbush, M. (2009). After a Loved One Dies – How children grieve. New York, NY: New York Life Foundation.