How to Support Grieving Students

Carolina Jacobs

Mar 8, 2023

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Losing a parent, siblingor other loved one is a too-common experience for many students. Unfortunately, many grieving students do not get the support they need at school, making coming back hard to manage. 

One in 14 kids lost a parent before turning 18, and more than 140,000 lost a parent or grandparent during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Grief can make learning and socializing impossible so how can teachers provide the right attention and resources for them? Here’s how you can support grieving students in your classroom and beyond. 

Reach Out Before They Come Back

When a student experiences a loss, you can reach out to them or their family before they return to school. Express your condolences and ask how you can best help them when returing to class. 

It’s important to ask whether or not they want you to tell their friends and classmates about the situation. Sometimes, it is easier on the kid for you to inform their classmates about the situation. Discussing with your class beforehand allows your other students time to ask questions and empathize before they return. Other times, they don’t want you to discuss them without being present. 

Many kids are self-concious about what other kids will think about them when they return. Encourage them that their friends will support them and that they are not alone. 

The grief procss can be hard for kids to understand and discussing how to best support each other during hard. Discuss counseling opportunities for students who need a safe space to express their feelings. When they come back, the entire school can support them. 

Work Out a Plan For Assignments 

Stress impacts students’ ability to retain information and concentrate on completing their assigned tasks. Grief can lead to various mental challenges— you can not expect them to catch up and move on. 

Work with your student and their family to help them best learn the information they are missing and complete their assignments. Consider extending deadlines or providing alternative tasks for your student to make the tasks more digestible. Remember that the student is going through a major transition at home and it might be best to give them time during class to work on things. 

It is always best to review the content of your assignments when you have a grieving student. Use the information you know about what happened to their loved one to avoid content with potential triggers. 

Doing these things can help your student feel more capable resuming their education.

Develop Silent Communication 

It can be embarrassing for students to ask for a trip to the bathroom or counselor when a wave of sadness or frustration happens. Working out subtle, silent communication with them is an excellent way to show support and give them the freedom to process and grieve at school.

You can place a box of tissues or other item near your door that they can grab when they need a moment with the counselor or by themselves to cry. It is embarrassing for many students to get emotional in front of their peers. Providing them with a quick escape shows that you understand. 

Talk privately with the student about the best way for them to communicate their needs with you without alerting their peers. This method also works when they stay inside the classroom. For example, they could put their water bottle on top of their desk when they do not feel up to answering questions or participating in an activity. Working with your student, their family and professionals to determine what’s best for them prevents you from unintentionally compromising their emotions.

Talk About Grief

Discussing grief can benefit all of your students and you do not have to wait until someone is personally affected. 

Normalizing that grief occurs in many ways for many people can help your students be more empathic towards each other. Talk about how grief does not just happen when we lose a loved one but can occur when any major life change happens.

While the stages of grief might be familair to students due to media or other discussions, it is important to emphasize that they do not happen in an order or over a set period of time, and some might not happern at all. It is normally to feel sad and angry and it is also valid to still be happy. Everyone is different and no feeling is wrong. 

Emphasize that crying is not a sign of weakness but is a natural emotional release that many people experience. It is also OK if people don’t cry during the grieving process. Though it is tempting to appear “normal,” when returning to school and other activities, it is important to be emotionally available with each other and create an atmosphere of support when someone is experiencing grief. 

Create a Grief Support Group 

WIth so many kids losing people close to them, chances are several grieving students in your school. You can support all these students by creating a grief support group where they can share their stories and feel less alone. 

Remember that your kids might be embarrassed to let their peers know they are doing this. You can create the group discreetly by working with teachers and administrators to identify kids who experienced a recent loss and reach out privately. 

Being with other students who know what they’re going through can provide great comfort for kids. You can supervise or recruit a counselor or teacher who can empathize with them to lead discussions. Training about the topic can help whoever is in charge avoid making an awkward or uncomfortable environment for participants. 

Supporting Grieving Students 

There is no roadmap to grief and it’s hard to always know what support a student has outside of the classroom. By supporting your student, you can help them feel less alone, which can help them safely navigate their grief.

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