Teachers: a Unique Resource

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Teachers and school staffs are in a unique position to support children in their class or school community who have been bereaved.

School and its routine provide stability, security, continuity and above all a familiar structure and routine to a child whose world might be in turmoil and confusion due to significant change and loss in the family following a death.

Most grieving pupils do not need a “bereavement expert” but simply need the support of people who care and can empathise with their situation.

Teachers can make a real difference to bereaved pupils by acknowledging their loss and by offering opportunities for them to talk about their experiences if they want to. Teachers can listen and respond to the spoken and often unspoken messages children may send.

Teachers, you, yourselves are the best and most effective resource to children and young people in this situation – doing what you do every day as part of your professional role as a teacher school staff member.                                                                                                

  • Acknowledge what happened. Create a time to say “ I am sorry that ……has died”.
  • Teachers could ask “What would you like to happen?” Some children may want to slip back into a class without any undue notice or attention being focussed on them. Others may be relieved by a public acknowledgement. Others may want to know what if anything has been said to the class.
  • Explain and acknowledge that you are there to help at this difficult time, that you understand that they may need additional help to catch up with work or to get school work completed etc. Watch out for those children who go to the other extreme and over work or over study.
  • Check in as time goes on.
  • Maintain the class routine. It is part of life that has not changed and can be a comfort.
  • Create a supportive class/school environment, your supportive presence and understanding is fundamental.
  • Every child’s response will be different. Draw on your understanding of the child, often it is through your observations that you will know when to be there.
  • Be watchful, alert & sensitive to changes in behaviour/emotions/ needs, children often don’t know or understand what is happening to them or why they are feeling the way that they do, often they do not have the language to express how they are feeling.
  • Understand that it is very common that patterns of changed behaviours and interactions with peers emerge, children often do not have the words to talk about how they feel.
  • Listen & be patient, you don’t always have to say anything. Some children just need to tell and re tell their story over and over. They may ask the same questions over and over again, this can be the way they try to make sense of what has happened.
  • Be mindful that some children may not want to speak about their bereavement and that is okay and should be respected.
  • Watch out for isolation at play/lunch time – sometimes children can subconsciously exclude a child who has been bereaved as being different or can be fearful that the same thing may happen them. A bereaved child might also withdraw from interacting with their peers.
  • Give Reassurance – bereaved children can lose their sense of trust and confidence in their world and may display heightened anxiety levels even in relation to very ordinary issues (break time, schoolwork, and friends). Self-esteem can be diminished. Be patient and reassuring.
  • Remembering, can be so important for a child’s grieving. Be sensitive to allow and create opportunities to remember during different time of the school year and/or during the day-to-day classroom discussions /activities.
  • If required, plan and allow a short break if required with another staff member. Children and young people may need some space and relief for short periods particularly at times of high emotions /feelings that can occur. Remember children dip in and out of grief and when they dip in it can be very intense and exhausting. Teachers at all times adhere to school policy.
  • Have fun and share laughs. It is really important that children and young people know that they do not have to be sad all the time that it is okay to play, laugh and have fun.
  • Maintain a flexibility and understanding over the long term, life has changed. Adapting to loss will take considerable time. For many, it is a lifelong process as a child grows and develops through the developmental stages.
  • Inform and empower yourself on key aspects of children’s grief and the importance of their stage of development in relation to the bereavement.

Teachers: You are the unique resource for children experiencing grief and loss in your classroom.

You boost a child’s self- esteem, confidence and resilience when you build the relationship to

  • Listen actively and meaningfully

A child needs to know that what they say matters, is heard and accepted

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