Self-Care for Primary Teachers Working with Bereaved Children

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As a teacher, you spend twenty-five hours or more with the children in your care each week. Witness ing a child struggling or distressed obviously has an impact. Sometimes a teacher finds that they are still thinking about a child after they leave school, and may be upset at what is happening in the child’s life.  This is a natural response and a reflection of the teacher’s care, compassion and solidarity.

Teachers sometimes wonder if they care too much and worry if they will burn out if this happens too often. This is a very valid question, and raises the importance for anyone in the caring professions to practice self-care.

It’s vital for all of us to have balance in life, and to take responsibility for nourishing ourselves at many levels. When we are well in ourselves we take the challenges of caring for children much more in our stride.

Ask yourself some personal questions…

  • “Am I eating well, sleeping enough and taking exercise so as to maintain my physical health?”
  • “Am I staying connected to those I can be emotionally honest with such as a partner, friends or close family? Am I talking about my concerns to someone who listens?”
  • “Am I relaxing or having fun every week? Am I doing the things I enjoy so that work does not take over?”
  • “Do I give myself time to shop, clean the house and pay the bills so that I can feel on top of things?”

Ask yourself some professional ones…

  • “Do I have a framework for understanding what is happening to the children in my class?  Can I draw on theory or past experience to make sense of what is happening?  If not can I identify how I will learn?”
  • “Am I clear about my responsibility as a teacher, the limits of that responsibility and whom I need to consult with?  If not whom can I ask to mentor me?”
  • “Am I following the ethical values set out in Code of Professional Conduct by the Teaching Council? Am I acting is the spirit of the school Mission Statement?”
  • “Do I realise that I am not alone as a teacher, that I am part of a team and can consult my principal or colleagues when I have a concern for a bereaved child in my classroom?”

INTO has a Care call Counselling Service available to teachers. A free, confidential and independent phone line, it runs 24/7, 365 days on 1800 409673.

The  Department of Education & Skills runs an Employee Assistance and Wellbeing Programme for Teachers and Special Needs Assistants, provided EAP Consultants/Carecall. It is accessible 24/7, 365 days. Freephone 1800 411 057.

Teachers cannot change the lives of children in many circumstances including bereavement –  as a teacher, you do not have to do the work of social workers, counsellors or psychologists. However, teachers frequently underestimate the value of consistent care, kindness, listening and good humor to a child in their care.

Professionalism is not about having or not-having sad feelings. Rather it is about knowing how to act in a way that helps, while staying true to our role.