Supporting a bereaved child: information for schools
“Death neither obeys the school timetable nor appears on it…it enters the classroom without knocking.”
As a teacher or member of staff within a school community it is inevitable that you will work with children affected by death in one way or another. The immediacy and enormity of these experiences may vary, but in each situation, you have a genuine chance to positively affect a young life.
One young person told us: “My Mum died and my life changed for ever. It was the biggest thing that ever happened to me. My teacher never mentioned it.” Stories like this are not uncommon. The teacher had acted no doubt, with good intentions but the message that their pupil received was not a caring or helpful one.
How can you help?
Bereaved pupils you encounter will be at varying stages of their grief journey. They may have experienced a death the previous night (“Their dad rang me and said that mum had died in the night of a heart attack; he could not cope with the kids so sent them to school as normal. They look like they are sleep walking”) or a few years ago (“We were doing a bike safety course and she suddenly burst out crying; I had no idea her sister died in a bike accident – I didn’t even know she had a sister who had died”).
Often, our first thought is “HELP!” and we don’t know what to say, fearing we will ‘make it worse’. The very worst thing that could ever happen in that child’s life has just happened – you can’t make it worse! The fact that a teacher cares enough to say “I was really sorry to hear about your mum dying, it made me sad” or asking “how are you feeling today? I guess things are still hard” will make a world of difference to a pupil, and demonstrate a lot of care.
Dare to ask questions and listen to the answers. Be prepared to share your own feelings if necessary, or talk about how death makes you feel and allow your student to decide what happens next, and who they talk to.
These pages are not intended to be a substitute for training in supporting bereaved children. We simply hope to offer some pointers to help you and help the young people you work with. If you are interested in reading more about the subject, we offer a Schools Information Pack and a Strategy for Schools plus a range of publications and resources in our online bookshop. We can offer training that is made-to-measure for your school within Gloucestershire, or recommend a more local organisation elsewhere in the country.
Please see pdf download section below for examples of lesson aids for Key Stages 1, 2, 3 & 4.
An example of a school's response