Sometimes schools must help children grieve

14 Mar

Life intervenes whether people are ready or not. Sometimes, children will lose a family member or another person who is close to them. Unfortunately, sometimes children may lose a classmate or even a staff member at their school. It is important to deal with the child’s grief and to be sensitive to the child’s manner of grieving. Help Guide.Org has some excellent resources about grief. In Coping with Grief and Loss: Understanding the Grieving Process, Help Guide.Org offers the following advice:

Everyone grieves differently

Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience. How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and the nature of the loss. The grieving process takes time. Healing happens gradually; it can’t be forced or hurried – and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.

Myths and Facts About Grief

MYTH: The pain will go away faster if you ignore it.

Fact: Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it.

MYTH: It’s important to be “be strong” in the face of loss.

Fact: Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to loss. Crying doesn’t mean you are weak. You don’t need to “protect” your family or friends by putting on a brave front. Showing your true feelings can help them and you.

MYTH: If you don’t cry, it means you aren’t sorry about the loss.

Fact: Crying is a normal response to sadness, but it’s not the only one. Those who don’t cry may feel the pain just as deeply as others. They may simply have other ways of showing it.

MYTH: Grief should last about a year.

Fact: There is no right or wrong time frame for grieving. How long it takes can differ from person to person.

Source: Center for Grief and Healing

A survey indicates that schools are generally not helpful in helping children with the grieving process.

Kim Painter has written the USA Today article, Grieving kids say schools could be better at helping:

But a new survey suggests many grieving kids don’t get as much help as they’d like from schools, even as they draw strength from friends and families and struggle with sadness and feelings of isolation.

For the survey, 531 children and teenagers who had lost a parent or sibling filled out questionnaires at community bereavement centers. Since the kids were getting services, they might not represent all grieving children. But the survey is the first of its kind, says Chris Park, president of the New York Life Foundation, which did the poll with the National Alliance for Grieving Children.

“A number of schools are doing a great job,” says Andy McNiel, executive director of the alliance. But nearly half the kids gave their schools a “C” grade or lower for helping them deal with their loss; nearly one in four assigned an “F.”

“It just breaks my heart to hear that,” says Sandy Austin, a counselor at Green Mountain High School in Lakewood, Colo. Austin helps organize student B.I.O.N.I.C. (Believe It Or Not, I Care) teams to reach out to peers who are grieving, sick or otherwise in need. She says students benefit when they know they can turn to at least one adult at school.

But “the reality is that most educators have no training specifically directed at how to help students who are grieving,” says David Schonfeld, director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. “Many are afraid they are going to say the wrong thing, and as a result they say nothing.”

Among other survey findings:

75% said they were sad. “Even when they get support, the sadness doesn’t disappear,” says McNiel. The kids were, on average, two years past a family member’s death.

72% said the death made them feel “life is not fair.” These kids “are now aware of something about life that other kids are not,” McNiel says. “That makes them feel different.”

39% worry a surviving guardian will die. “If they can’t get their parents on the phone at the end of the school day, they worry,” Park says.

But most of the kids also said they expected to have good lives, felt that friends and families had been helpful, and agreed that they “just want to be treated like everyone else.” Some reported trouble eating, sleeping or with grades, but most did not. Some wanted more people to ask about their deceased family member; others wanted fewer questions.

Parents, caregivers, and schools should get appropriate assistance to help children with the grieving process.

The National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital has some excellent resources:

School Resources

Download practical guidelines, tip sheets and training modules for school administrators and teachers who respond to the needs of students and staff after a loss.

> Read More

Psychological First Aid

The Psychological First Aid brochures are designed to provide guidance to children, parents and caregivers after natural disasters. Chinese and Japanese translations are available.

> Read More

Support a Grieving Child: Parent Guide

NCSCB partners with the New York Life Foundation to provide booklet for parents on supporting grieving children.

> Read More

Guidelines for Responding to the Death of A Child or Staff

There is nothing wrong with getting the necessary help.

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©


One Response to “Sometimes schools must help children grieve”


  1. The Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative « drwilda - June 27, 2012

    […] Sometimes schools must help children grieve […]

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