Helping Students Cope With Loss

Steps to take to support your students when they are coping with loss.
Loss is hard at any point in life, but when a child experiences a loss of someone close to them it can be all the more confusing. Many times the adults in a student's life are doing the best they can to cope with the loss themselves and don't know how to help their child cope, or may even be unable to.

Loss can come in many forms. It may be the loss of a family member, pet, friend, or even divorce. All of these forms of loss weigh heavily on the heart and should be treated with respect.

Kids often have a lot of questions when it comes to loss, and these questions can be very difficult to answer when you are in the middle of the loss yourself. As teachers, we can support our students and their families during this difficult time by being a listening ear and support system.

Keep in mind that grieving is not a one size fits all kind of process, so be patient, and stay open minded.

Talk to the Family

Before you speak to the student about their loss, make sure to talk to their family. Every family has a different way of grieving, and we don't want to interfere with their personal process. By writing a note of support home or making a friendly phone call you can express your sympathies and ask the family if there is anything you can do to support them. While speaking with the family I always mention ways that I would like to support the student in the classroom to make sure that the family is okay or has any other ideas, because the last thing I want to do during this difficult time is step on anyone's toes. Communication is key! 

In the past I have offered to help families by keeping their students after school for a little while so that they are able to make difficult arrangements. If the student has siblings I am more than happy to keep them as well, in fact I prefer to have more than just one student there. This has by far been the most appreciated and accepted offer that I have made. This works two-fold. Families are able to get an extra few hours to take care of their needs, and the students are able to get some individualized attention outside of academic time. If I have the blessing of their family I also take this time to talk to the student about what they are feeling. 

Get Your School Counselor Involved

School counselors are amazing people, and they have the best tools for helping to support students that are going through difficult times including coping with loss. As a teacher, make sure that your counselor is aware of your student's loss and is in communication with their family. 

Many times the school counselor will also come talk to your class about what has happened and how we can all work together to support them. 

Don't Press

Everyone grieves at a different rate. Do not press your students to talk about their loss is they are not ready. In fact, many students appreciate being left alone during this time. Walking this fine line can be tricky, but giving students space while still checking in with them can be the best approach. Students will talk about it when they are ready. 

If a student seems to be overwhelmed, providing them with a space where they can be by themselves can be helpful. I had one student who just wanted to be by himself for the first couple of days back at school, so instead of working at his table group he worked over at the teacher desk. After a few days, when he was ready, he moved himself back over to his group. 

A good rule of thumb is to listen more than you talk. 

Incorporate Literature

Steps to take to support your students when they are coping with loss. There are some awesome children's books out there that help to support students that are coping with loss. Some books that I have used are: (affiliate links)

Another way of incorporating literature is to make sure that books your choose to use in class as read alouds or for book clubs represent loss within a family. These stories can help students to realize that there are others out there that have experienced loss as well. Before using each book I would encourage you to read it yourself to be prepared for the storyline as well as ensure it is appropriate for your class. 

Provide Extra Help in the Classroom

When grieving, a student's mind can be all over the place and make it difficult for them to focus on academic tasks. It is okay to let them lose focus for small periods of time, but important to maintain the structure of the classroom. A lot of times the classroom is a sanctuary away from the sadness that a student is experiencing, and it is important for us to maintain our daily schedules. 

During this time, check in with the student a little more than you normally would. Provide them with extra positive reinforcements to keep them going, and encourage them to ask for help with they need it. 

More Information

Want to know what the experts are saying about helping students cope with loss?
Check out these resources:

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