Helping Grieving Children at School

As a parent, a reliable resource to help a child deal with the death of a loved one might be the child’s teacher.

Educators are familiar with how a student’s home life affects school life. The two are inextricably intertwined.

When someone in the child’s family dies, it is difficult for a child to “put his or her grief aside” and go back to learning and playing alongside other students.

Even though death is a difficult subject to discuss, most teachers can talk with students on their level, solicit their thoughts and feelings and use language that they understand.

According to Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., a national grief counselor, author and director of the Center for Loss in Fort Collins, Colorado, “It is important for teachers, as well as parents, to understand that what grieving children need most is for someone to listen to and understand them – not to talk at them.

“Instead of worrying about what to say, try to create opportunities for your bereaved student to talk to you about the death.”

In the classroom, “teachable moments” often present themselves. For example, a teacher may use the birth or death of a bird to talk about the life cycle and the emotions these events conjure.

Many children express the pain of grief by acting out.

“My experience as a grief counselor has shown me that probably the two greatest needs of a bereaved child are for affection and a sense of security,” Dr. Wolfelt said.

Every child copes with grief uniquely. Some children will benefit from support groups and counseling. Others may just need a little more time and attention from caring adults.

Fortunately, your child’s teacher or counselor can help you find bereavement counseling if your child needs it.

Guidelines for Helping Grieving Children

  • Be a good observer.
  • Listen. Let each child teach you what grief is like for him.
  • Be patient. A child’s grief isn’t typically obvious and immediate.
  • Be honest. Don’t lie to children about death. They need to know that it’s permanent and irreversible.
  • Be available. Bereaved children need to know that they can count on the adults in their lives to listen to them, support them and love them.

Milward Funeral Directors in collaboration with Hospice of the Bluegrass will host Dr. Alan Wolfelt for its annual Holiday Hope program at the Celebration Center of Lexington, 1509 Trent Boulevard, Monday, Nov. 12 from 7-9 p.m.  Additionally, Dr. Wolfelt will present a Caregiver Seminar on Tuesday, Nov. 13 from 9 a.m. to noon.  Teachers are encouraged to enroll in this FREE seminar. Info: 272-3414.