Returning to school after a death in the family can be hard for children, even though they generally look forward to doing ‘normal’ things and seeing their friends. It is usually best for children to return to school quite soon after a funeral. You can make it easier for a child to go back to school by:
- Telling the school in advance about the bereavement if they do not know. Let your child’s teacher or year head know what the child has been told about the death, how
they reacted, and if there is anything in particular you think the teacher should look out for.
- If your child prefers the death to be acknowledged, perhaps the teacher could mention it to the class and have a minute’s silence or say a prayer for the person? Some children do not want any attention on them, and may not want the death acknowledged in school. Ask your child which they would prefer.
- Ask the child a day or two in advance of their return to school how they think their teacher(s) could help them.
- Listen to their concerns, because they may be worrying how their friends will treat them.
- Children often see school as a place where they can take a break from grief and sadness to just do normal things. They often need to carry on as normal.
- Teachers can be an important part of the caring circle for grieving children. They may
notice changes in how the child is managing at school. Communicating and checking in with your child’s teacher(s) regularly may help you.
- Bereaved children often find it hard to concentrate in school. Grief can be an ongoing process for children, so remember that changes may take time to surface.
- Let teacher(s) know when the anniversary is, so they can be sensitive to the needs of the child.
- Any day can be difficult for a grieving child, but some are harder than others. Days such as Mother’s or Father’s Day can be difficult if the class is engaged in making cards for parents: a bereaved child needs choice as to what they would like to do. Many make cards to remember their deceased parent and use them in different ways.
A death in the family will bring lots of changes for everyone, including children. Although many changes cannot be avoided it is best to keep changes to a minimum. Consider what changes your child is going through that you may not have noticed. Children feel most secure when life seems to go on as before and seems predictable. Help your child by:
- Keeping the same routine for bedtime, mealtimes, activities, screen-time etc.
- Being consistent with discipline; firm but fair. It is easy for this to become relaxed as we may feel we are being kind, but a child feels safe when the usual rules apply.
- Getting back into the childcare/school routine can assist in settling a child after a time of change and upheaval. Carers, babysitters or child-minders should be kept the same if possible.
- Not making big changes to care in the weeks or months after the death of a close family member.
- Preparing them in advance for any changes; involving them and giving them plenty of time to adjust.
- Limiting visitors to the home after the death. This may be difficult but necessary in order for things to settle down for young children.