Print Page   |   Home   |   Sign In   |   Join
Conversations and Support to Work With Grieving Students
Share |

Index of Grief Support Articles:

Peer Support Articles
          "Your mommy died. You can't make a Mother's Day card!"
          Support Grieving Children by Teaching Skills to Their Peers
          5 Questions Children Often Have When a Classmate is Grieving

Support Over Time
          How Much Do You Know About Ways to Provide Support to Grieving Children Over Time?

Talking With Children
          “A lot of people stayed away from me and didn’t really talk to me a lot.” 

Cultural Sensitivity:
          Grief Across Cultures: Teacher Worries About “Doing Something Wrong”
          3 Tips: Supporting Grieving Students from Different Cultures
          Supporting Grieving Families: Q & A About Cultural Competence

To Help Grieving Families:
          Offer Advice on Funeral Attendance
          Death in the School Community: What Policies Should Schools Set About Funeral Attendance?

          When a Loved One Dies: Is Funeral Attendance Good for Children?


Peer Support Articles:

“Your mommy died. You can’t make a Mother’s Day card!”

Would children really say such things to a grieving classmate? Yes, they sometimes do. Is it because they are being cruel? In most cases, no. It may be because they have questions, anxiety and confusion about what has happened to their peer.

SSWAA is a member of the Coalition to Support Grieving Students. The Coalition encourages school professionals to talk with students of all ages about death, grief and ways to offer support. Addressing these topics in class helps students better understand how to reach out to a grieving classmate. And that’s what most children truly want to do.

Find resources and learn more at the Coalition’s website: www.grievingstudents.org.


Support Grieving Children by Teaching Skills to Their Peers

“I thought coming back to school after my father died would be a lot harder than it was. But it was actually a really good experience because the second I came in, all of my friends, which were 31 classmates at the time, they all just rushed and gave me a hug, including my teacher. And I felt like I couldn’t breathe, but it made me really happy to be back.”

Children, like adults, are often uncertain about how to support a grieving peer. They want to help their friends, but they may hold back or unintentionally isolate a peer who has experienced a death in the family.

School professionals can equip students with skills that help them offer genuine support to a classmate. This can make a profound difference for grieving students.

SSWAA is a member of the Coalition to Support Grieving Students. The Coalition encourages discussions with students of all ages about death, grief and ways to offer support. Addressing these topics in class helps students better understand how to reach out to a grieving classmate.

Find resources and learn more at the Coalition’s website: www.grievingstudents.org.


5 Questions Children Often Have When a Classmate is Grieving

Grief and loss are common among children and teens—almost all students will experience the death of a close friend or family member before they complete their schooling. Children often have questions, anxiety and confusion about what has happened to a grieving classmate. While every child is different, here are some questions they commonly have.

1. Could someone I love also die? My parents? My siblings?

2. What does it actually mean when someone has died?

3. How will this affect our classmate and his or her family?

4. What can I do? I’m worried about members of my own family dying.

5. I have no idea what to say or do to be supportive to our classmate. Can you help me figure it out?

Find guidance about answering these questions at the website of The Coalition to Support Grieving Students. SSWAA is a member. Help students better understand how to reach out to a grieving classmate and learn to get support for their own concerns or anxieties.  Find resources and learn more at the Coalition’s website: www.grievingstudents.org.


Support Over Time

How Much Do You Know About Ways to Provide Support to Grieving Children Over Time?

Most K-12 students will experience the death of a loved one before they complete high school. School professionals can play an essential role in providing support that helps children make sense of these experiences and stay productive in their school and personal lives.

How much do you know about ways to provide support to grieving children over time? Take this quiz and find out. Then check out the website of the Coalition to Support Grieving Students [http://grievingstudents.scholastic.com/] for self-paced modules to learn more.


Talking With Children

“A lot of people stayed away from me and didn’t really talk to me a lot.”   Quentin

Imagine a child or youth you might come across in your work as a school professional. Imagine this child has experienced something deeply troubling and painful. Many people—both adults and peers—know about this event. But few, or perhaps none, actually speak up to offer the child support, caring and understanding.  This, unfortunately, is the actual scenario for many children who experience the death of someone close—a parent, other family member, friend. Peers, teachers and other adults feel an awkwardness about the subject of death. They worry that mentioning it will only cause more distress. They don’t know what to do about the child’s suffering. They don’t know what to say.  Read article about how to start the conversation. 

School staff and others who work with children and youth can learn more at the newly launched website of the Coalition to Support Grieving Students [http://grievingstudents.scholastic.com/ including a specially-developed set of video simulations demonstrating how to talk with grieving children.


Cultural Sensitivity: 

Grief Across Cultures: Teacher Worries About “Doing Something Wrong”

“The grandmother of one of my students died. The two had been very close. I was invited to the family’s home for the visitation and wanted to be there to support my student. But then I found myself feeling hesitant. The family’s culture and religious practices were quite different from my own, and different from those of my other students. It would be unfamiliar. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Suddenly I was thinking, ‘What if I do or say something wrong?’” -- Fourth grade teacher

School personnel may not be familiar with the rituals and expectations of every culture represented among their students. Rather than reaching out to a family after the death of a loved one, some hold back, concerned they might do something inappropriate or offend the family.

Although there are real differences between cultures, the fundamental experience of grief is universal. Chances are quite good that a school professional who is thoughtful, sensitive and respectful will be able to help grieving students and provide meaningful support to their families.

Check out guidance on addressing grief with families from different cultures on the website of the Coalition to Support Grieving Students.  Also download one page Cultural Sensitivity Summary The website’s materials are designed specifically for school professionals. The School Social Work Association of America is proud to be a member of the Coalition.


3 Tips: Supporting Grieving Students from Different Cultures

Different cultures respond to death in different ways. Some may be expressive and celebrate a life well-lived. Others may be quiet and reflective. While most school professionals are familiar with traditions of some students, they are unlikely to know all of the practices of each culture represented in their classroom or school.

For grieving students and their families, the support of school personnel is valuable and unique. When reaching across cultures in these situations, the following three tips can be helpful.

1. Ask questions. Ask openly when you are unsure what would be most helpful for a family or individual. For example:

“Can you help me understand how I can best be of help to you and your family?”

2. Watch out for assumptions. Many families blend traditions of several cultures. Assumptions about how a grieving family is expected to act because they come from a certain culture can cloud our perceptions. We might miss opportunities to be helpful.

3. Be present and authentic. Approach a grieving family with an open mind and heart. Be guided by their responses.

Check out guidance on addressing grief with families from different cultures  on the website of the Coalition to Support Grieving Students. Also download one page Cultural Sensitivity Summary The website’s materials are designed specifically for school professionals. The School Social Work Association of America is proud to be a member of the Coalition.


Q & A About Cultural Competence

Students in our school come from a lot of different cultures. What’s a good way for me to learn about how their families deal with grief?

We are all enriched when we learn about different cultural beliefs, expectations and traditions. Novels, movies, blogs and even textbooks about cultural differences can all be sources of helpful information.

One of the best ways to learn about a family’s beliefs and practices in bereavement is to ask openly. You might ask how you could best be of help to a grieving family, or ask a family member to tell you more about how they will approach the grief and remembrance of their loved one.

If a student’s culture is not familiar to me, how can I be sure I won’t do something inappropriate if I reach out to the family at a time of grief?

We’ve all had the experience of being clumsy at a delicate moment with a friend or family member, or with a student or student’s family. This is a natural and unavoidable part of human interactions.

When a family is grieving, we feel a greater obligation to be sensitive and supportive. This sincere desire to be helpful and genuine concern is actually our greatest asset. Even if we are not familiar with the specific customs of a family or its culture, we can be thoughtful and respectful. We can be observant. We can ask questions openly, and listen to responses carefully. These practices are experienced as helpful by almost all families, whatever their culture.

What’s the best way for me to become more skillful in supporting grieving students and families whose culture is different from my own?

Although there are real differences in traditions between cultures, the fundamental experience of grief is universal. Rather than trying to gain knowledge about every culture, it’s best to first aim to become competent in supporting a grieving individual in at least one culture. Probably your own would be a good start.

If someone is able to be thoughtful, empathetic, sensitive and supportive to a grieving child of one culture, chances are quite good that this person will be able to help a child of another culture.

For more guidance on addressing grief with families from different cultures, check the website of the Coalition to Support Grieving Students.   Also download one page Cultural Sensitivity Summary
The website’s materials are designed specifically for school professionals. The School Social Work Association of America is proud to be a member of the Coalition.   


To Help Grieving Families:

Offer Advice on Funeral Attendance

When a student has experienced the death of a loved one, school professionals have a unique opportunity to offer helpful guidance to families. Parents frequently contact schools immediately after the death, and before the funeral or memorial service has taken place.

This means that school personnel may be the only professionals in touch with the family during the time the funeral is being planned. Families may be confused about their child’s role in the process. Some parents may want their child to participate. Others may hesitate, wishing to protect their child from what they fear will be a painful experience.

Ideally, children will be afforded the opportunity to make their own choice about funeral attendance. Most of the time, it is better if children do attend. They will feel more included, benefit from the support of family and friends, and learn more about coping with their own grief  by watching others.

School professionals can offer guidance to families about the benefits of funeral attendance and how to best prepare a child for a funeral or memorial. For example, families can give children a sense of what will happen during the service. Will there be an open casket? Will many people be present? Is this likely to be an emotional and expressive service, or something more restrained?

Children will appreciate a chance to ask questions—even if they don’t have any at the moment. During the service, it’s helpful to request that an adult who is not as personally impacted by the death mentor the child through the experience, especially for younger children.

Check out guidance on how school professionals can help families prepare children for funerals and memorials (Chapter 1, 14 minute video) on the website of the Coalition to Support Grieving Students. Download the 2 page Summary regarding Funeral Attendance.  The website’s materials are designed specifically for school professionals. The School Social Work Association of America is proud to be a member of the Coalition.


Death in the School Community: What Policies Should Schools Set About Funeral Attendance?

A death in the school community—a student, teacher or staff member—touches many people. Students and school staff are likely to be deeply affected. Some individuals may wish to attend the funeral or memorial service.

In general, it is helpful when schools support attendance at services for interested students and staff. These services can provide comfort as people struggle to make sense of a loss.

It is important that attendance be a choice, not an expectation. Some students and staff may prefer not to attend, and their choices must be respected.

Schools will want to have policies and practices in place that address such matters as:

  • Obtaining permission from parents for a student to attend if the service is during school hours. (For young children, it may be most appropriate to ask parents to personally accompany their child.)
  • Hiring substitute teachers or arranging coverage in other ways so school personnel can attend.
  • Considering whether to modify the school schedule to make it easier on students to attend if they wish (for example, ending the day early or postponing tests).
  • Providing alternative activities for students who choose not to attend the funeral.

If many students and staff are likely to attend, schools should also talk with the family of the deceased to help them prepare. The family may decide to hold the service at a larger location. If this is not practical, or doesn’t meet the needs and wishes of the family, members of the school community might plan alternative ways to show their caring and remembrance.

In most cases, it’s best to avoid using school facilities for funeral services, especially if the body of the deceased will be present. This can create painful associations with that space for students and staff in the future. However, religious schools may have an on-site space, such as a chapel, that would be appropriate.

For more guidance on ways schools can plan sound policies,  (Chapter 2, 14 minute video) as well as how school professionals can help families prepare children for these events, check the website of the Coalition to Support Grieving Students.  Download the 2 page Summary regarding Funeral Attendance.  The website’s materials are designed specifically for school professionals. The School Social Work Association of America is proud to be a member of the Coalition.


When a Loved One Dies: Is Funeral Attendance Good for Children?

Families may turn to school personnel for advice on funeral attendance. Will it cause unnecessary pain for their grieving child? Is it acceptable for the child to play a role in the memorial proceedings? How can families prepare and support children before and during the service?

There are a number of benefits for children who attend funeral or memorial services.

  • They feel included and affirmed.
  • They are comforted by the support of family and friends.
  • They may gain support from the family’s spiritual community.
  • They learn more about their own grief when they see the different ways people grieve and seek support.
  • They appreciate participating in an important event or ritual.

In most situations, it is helpful for children to attend the funeral or memorial of a loved one. When children are not included, they may feel hurt, discounted or excluded. In some cases, they create fantasies about the service that are far more frightening than what actually occurs.

Check for more guidance on how families can prepare children for these events (Chapter 3, 14 minute video) on the website of the Coalition to Support Grieving Students.  Download the 2 page Summary regarding Funeral Attendance.  The website’s materials are designed specifically for school professionals. The School Social Work Association of America is proud to be a member of the Coalition.

The Coalition to Support Grieving Students was convened by the New York Life Foundation, a pioneering advocate for the cause of childhood bereavement, and the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, which is led by pediatrician and childhood bereavement expert David J. Schonfeld, M.D. The Coalition has worked with Scholastic Inc., a long-standing supporter of teachers and kids, to create grievingstudents.org, a groundbreaking, practitioner-oriented website designed to provide educators with the information, insights, and practical advice they need to better understand and meet the needs of the millions of grieving kids in America’s classrooms.

Community Search
Sign In


Forgot your password?

Haven't joined yet?

Calendar
Online Surveys
Directory Search

Social Media
    
     How to Use Pinterest