Grief in the classroom and the Coalition to Support Grieving Students

Sad boy on bench
We all have experiences of loss and subsequent grief – even the youngest among us. While many of us collect tools and strategies for dealing with hardships as we age, the death of a friend, family member, teacher, or even pet can be extremely overwhelming for a child or young adult who has yet to experience a tragedy. The comfort of loved ones is essential for young people during times of loss, but what happens when a child returns to school?

Educators have been taught how to nurture the minds of their students, but the vast majority of them have never learned how to support a student experiencing grief – unfortunate, considering that in a school containing hundreds of students, at least a handful will be struggling emotionally at any given time. 

Effective grief support often requires more than common sense or empathy – it requires training, tools, and advice from bereavement experts. How should a death be announced to a student’s classmates? How can a teacher tell when a child is grieving? What should a teacher say to a grieving student, and what type of guidance will be most helpful? How should slipping grades and other reactions be addressed?

The Coalition to Support Grieving Students has set out to answer these and other questions with a selection of free modules aimed at teaching educators why bereavement support in the classroom is necessary and how it should be handled. Modules are organized by topic area

  • Conversation and Support – how to talk to a grieving child and what not to say
  • Developmental and Cultural Considerations – how to help a child understand what death is and be sensitive to the unique cultural practices of a child’s family
  • Practical Considerations – how to develop policies for funeral attendance and help children grieving secondary losses (lifestyle and relational losses as the result of a death) and cumulative losses (the loss of several peers or family members over time)
  • Reactions and Triggers – how grief may present academic challenges and other grief reactions and triggers
  • Professional Preparation and Self-Care – why educators should be trained in these areas
  • Crisis and Special Circumstances – how to react to the death of a staff member or classmate, suicide, and students with very serious illnesses

The Coalition was formed just two years ago after research showed that American educators were highly interested in helping their students during difficult times, but they lacked the resources and tools necessary to provide support. According to the Coalition:

“Schools are an ideal site at which to deliver care to grieving children: they are a safe and known setting for students, with a variety of trained staff available to address issues of grieving and death. The response of teachers and classmates to a student’s grief can either serve as an important source of support and stability during a difficult time, or as an additional hurdle to surmount.”

Because children may spend as much time with teachers and classmates during the week as they do with their own families, the resources provided by the Coalition are indispensable. To learn more, visit the Coalition to Support Grieving Students.

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