The majority of teachers will interact every day with students that are grieving. Teachers naturally want to help but feel like they don’t have the right training to step in. The good news is that in-depth training is not required for teachers to be able to make a positive impression on the lives of their students who are grieving. Here, we offer five helpful suggestions to teachers to be able to support their students.
Before we dive in, please understand that teachers don’t have to be experts in grief and psychology. It’s possible to be helpful and supportive just by being there and giving focus and attention to the grieving student when they express how they feel. Grieving students actually can find it easier to talk to a teacher first because they might feel worried about bothering their parents, who are also grieving.
You don’t need to be a grief counselor or feel like you need to give therapy to a grieving student. Instead, focus on providing a supportive environment where the student feels comfortable and safe in sharing their thoughts; afterward, you can refer the student to a specialist or support system if you think it’s appropriate. It’s impossible to prevent their grief, but by giving the student comfort and stability, you’re doing the right thing at this difficult time. Here are five tips to help you support grieving students.
- Help Younger Students Process and Understand
It’s important when you’re speaking to younger children about the death of their loved one that you use the words “dead” or “died.” By using roundabout expressions like “passed away,” children risk getting confused and will struggle to process what happened. It’s better to reinforce the reality of death, that it’s irreversible, and happens to all of us. This prevents misconceptions and stress in the student.
- Be Available for Older Students Without Pushing
Older children are sometimes looked to for support of their family members after the death of a close family member or overlooked entirely. In those cases, school becomes very important for those older students to get support and care from adults. You should offer to speak with them, but they might not be ready or prefer to talk with friends or be alone. Even if they’re overwhelmed, they might push back. It’s important not to pressure them to open up but work with them to find adults they can confide in when they’re ready. Be supportive and available to them, and from time to time, reiterate your offer to talk with them.
- Open the Door for Expression
You won’t be able to remove children’s grief, nor should you try to, but instead give them an opportunity to express their grief. Don’t say anything to try to cheer them up, and with children, you want to listen more and not talk as much. You might feel tempted to share your personal experience of loss. Resist that, and instead let them express themselves. Grieving children almost always feel guilt at the loss of the loved one, so you can reassure them that they’re not responsible.
- Speak to Parents and Offer Help
You should fill in the student’s family about how they’re handling things at school. Coordinate your efforts with the parents or caregivers. They might feel overwhelmed about how to help their grieving child, so they will welcome your advice as well as be appreciative of your concern and support.
- Give Support for Learning
Children who are grieving often struggle with learning and concentrating. They could use extra support or tutoring as well as a change in test schedules. It’s important to offer this help before any problems even arise. You should also speak with students, parents, and coaches, or other key figures at school to create a network of support.
Children spend as much time at school as they do at home during the week. Because of that, teachers and educators are incredibly important when it comes to supporting a grieving child. By understanding how to handle this issue, it becomes a lot easier and less overwhelming to provide what the child needs in this challenging time.