How schools can support students coping with a bereavement
As many as 92% of young people in the UK will experience what they see as a 'significant' bereavement before the age of 16. (1)
Up to 70% of schools have a bereaved student on role at any one time. (2)
Children and young people will also experience loss in relation to other aspects of their lives, e.g. parental separation or divorce, the death of a pet, or loss experienced through a move to a new area due to changed family circumstances.
The "Five Stages of Grief" (3) (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) can be used as a way of starting to understand what a child or young person may be experiencing.
If a bereaved pupil is unable to express their feelings, they may become withdrawn, insecure and develop low self-esteem.
How can schools help?
- Where possible arrange a meeting with a parent/carer and the child/young person prior to a return to school to find out how the child or young person would like to be supported.
- Acknowledge the child or young person's grief.
- Support the child or young person to talk about their loss and express their feelings, however, do not force them to talk but answer questions simply and honestly.
- Keep up routines – although it can feel like the most unsettling time, keeping a routine as normal as possible can avoid extra distress, e.g. spending time with their friends.
- Agree on support plans and circulate to all school staff members who will be supporting the bereaved child or young person
- Inform supply staff of the child or young person’s bereavement. Make them aware of any special measures that have been put in place to support the child/young person, e.g. time out card, homework arrangements.
- Develop a school bereavement policy https://www.cruse.org.uk/get-help/for-schools/school-bereavement-policy
Cruse - information on supporting students affected by a violent death.
Books about grief and loss for young children.
Advice for young people on bereavement
(1) - The impact of bereavement and loss on young people Jane Ribbens McCarthy with Julie Jessop
(2) - (Holland 2001) - Job and Frances guidance on helping schools develop their work with bereavement issues
(3) - (see Elizabeth Kubler Ross)