Do You Need to Support a Student During their Time of Loss?
DO – talk to the parents. We encourage teachers to talk to parents prior to the student returning to school to discuss any specific needs or behaviors, as well as keeping parents informed routinely on the student’s progress and any changes in his or her behavior whilst at school.
DO – talk to the student before they return to school. Put some time aside to sit down one on one (parents might like to be involved with young children) and create discussion with the student about their thoughts, feelings and fears with returning to school. When you understand this, you are better positioned to understand any subsequent behaviour once they recommence at school.
DO – involve the class. It is normal for children of all ages to be intrigued by and yearn to talk about the rituals and emotions surrounding death. In consultation with the student’s family, you might like to develop some activities or curriculum around this. Other simple ways of involving others include sending a joint sympathy card to the family, or having other students take homework home for them.
DO – familiarise yourself with the signs of grief. Grief manifests itself in many ways, both emotionally and physically. Be prepared for a loss of concentration and memory, increased anxiety and moodiness, irritability, regression or over-tiredness.
DO – develop strategies for managing moods. It’s important for the student to express the rollercoaster of emotions they are experiencing, but you might find the need to negotiate the terms of this slightly. For example, you might like to affirm to the student that while it’s okay for them to feel angry, it’s never okay to physically injure another person. Aggression is a common outcome from grief, particularly with children who feel unable to adequately express how they feel – you might like to consider behavioural management techniques in place such as ‘time-out’ during these times.
DO – follow routines. Try to create and stick to routines whenever possible, remember that other areas of the student’s life are in disarray, try to balance this by creating routine and stability in the classroom.
DO – be flexible. Expect that the student’s character and abilities will change and continue to change. They may also have difficulty in completing assignments on time, both due to concentration levels and reduced support for homework from his or her Carers. High school students might benefit from dropping one subject to ease their workload and create more spare time for catching up.
DO – talk about counselling options. Not all families have access to, can afford, or have thought about offering their child regular counselling. Perhaps a school counsellor or chaplain could assist?
DO – recognise other students may also be affected. Compassion for our fellow peers is an important characteristic for a child to develop. You might like to arrange a tree-planting day for your class or school, or alternatively a day for children to wear black armbands to honour their friend, or a fundraising venture to offset the student’s education costs.
DO – notify other teachers. This is particularly relevant for high school students who have several teachers. It’s essential that all teachers involved with a student create supportive and complimentary environments for the student.