On average, one child in every classroom has been bereaved of a parent or sibling. While the death of a close relative might be seen as a private, family matter, it is experienced in public.
Widows and widowers have to go back to work and face colleagues, and every year more than 30,000 young people have to return to school after a parent has died. Dealing with the rollercoaster emotions of grief while maintaining friendships and motivation for study is often a struggle.
Children’s Grief Awareness Week (November 17 to 23) is organised by the Childhood Bereavement Network (CBN) in partnership with Grief Encounter and CBN members across the UK.
This year’s theme “Make Time to Listen” includes a focus on the ways in which teachers and school staff can meet the needs of pupils who have faced – or are preparing to face – the death of a parent or sibling.
Many staff do this intuitively, responding on a human level to a pupil’s grief and being attuned to their needs. But any of us can feel anxious about how best to support a pupil, for fear of saying the wrong thing, or making things worse, or getting overwhelmed. Some simple preparation can help staff feel more confident.
Acknowledging what has happened is key: it’s a huge change for the young person. If you’re not sure what to say, ask a gentle question and listen carefully to the response. If you are worried about what language to use, or what religious and cultural beliefs and practices a family has, listen out for the way they talk about what has happened and mirror that in your conversation.
It is critical to listen to and respect bereaved pupils’ and their families’ preferences about how their peers are told, how they want the school represented at the funeral, and how they return to school.
Over the first few weeks after the death, pupils’ concentration is likely to be affected by the shock of what has happened, and the changes that will be going on at home. They will have different views about how best to cope in school, but giving them suggestions of things they can do if they are feeling overwhelmed can be helpful. Understanding the range of emotions and reactions of grief can help them to feel more in control. While lots of pupils report getting good support in the first weeks following a parent’s death, many report this tailing off over time.
Young people continue to struggle with their grief, often experiencing a “late effect” as the impact of the death sinks in for the family. Pupils need people to keep an eye on them, to keep listening, particularly at times of further transition, such as moving up a year, or around the anniversary of the death or other dates that have special family significance.
Some pupils will need the active intervention of schools to meet additional needs. Listen out for any bullying behaviour: some bereaved pupils report being targeted specifically because of the death, this needs to be addressed swiftly. Those facing exams or coursework submissions may need the school to apply for an adjustment of their marks.
Some will benefit from referral to a specialist family bereavement organisation, where they and their surviving parent will be able to get support for their loss and may be able to meet others in the same situation.
It is not just the pupils who are visibly upset or acting out that can benefit from support: many can find it helpful to realise they aren’t alone in their grief and to be supported to communicate in the family.
Your local child bereavement service can also be a resource for training staff, can help you to develop a bereavement policy, and can be available for consultations about particular pupils.
Online training is also available from Child Bereavement UK, and there are resources available to stock your library.
This blog has been cross posted from SecEd's website.You can see the origial blog here>