Why Schools Need Grief Coaches

Before they complete high school, nine in 10 children will experience the death of a family member or close friend. One in 20 will lose a parent.  Almost every class, every year, in every school, there’s likely to be at least one grieving student, if not more. 

 

Grief is extraordinarily painful for children. It can impact students’ learning, school performance and social/emotional development. School counselors and other educators have unique and essential roles to play in supporting grieving students.

 

Fairly simple interventions can help most students navigate their experience reasonably well and better manage school, friends, family and emotions. When grief becomes more challenging for a student, school counselors are well-positioned to help schools identify the problem and suggest appropriate solutions.

Image by Ryan Tauss

HOW GRIEF COACHES CAN SERVE SCHOOLS

Grief Coaches Provide:

  • ​​Lead School Based Support Group for Grieving Children

  • Confidential on-site and remote technical assistance and consultation for K-12 school leadership and school professionals.

  • Practical and timely advice via a 24/7 toll-free number and via email

  • Ongoing support directly to students and school faculty in the immediate aftermath of a crisis and throughout the long-term recovery period

  • Educational resources and crisis management tools

  • School staff training and community presentations, as well as professional development for a range of professional audiences.

HOW GRIEF COACHES CAN AFFECT CHILDREN

The Bereaved Child May:

 

•Become the class clown

•Become withdrawn and unsociable

•Bed-wet or have nightmares

•Become restless in staying seated

•Call out of turn

• Not complete schoolwork

• Have problems listening and staying on task

•Become overly talkative

•Become disorganized

•Show reckless physical action

•Show poor concentration around external stimuli

•Show difficulty in following directions

•Cry unexpectedly

• Get stomachaches and headaches.

Brief Facts and Tips​

  • Grief is not solely related to the death of a loved one. The symptoms, characteristics, and process of grieving can be similar after other types of loss (e.g., divorce, transition, moving).

  • Grief is personal. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. How people grieve can be influenced by developmental level, cultural traditions, religious beliefs, mental health, disabilities, family, personal characteristics, and previous experiences.

  • Grief is often characterized by sadness, emotional pain, and introspection in adults. However, children’s grief reactions differ according to age and developmental level:

    • Preschool - Regressive behaviors, decreased verbalization, increased anxiety

    • Elementary - Decreased academic performance, attention/concentration, and attendance; irritability, aggression, and disruptive behaviors; somatic complaints; sleep/eating disturbances; social withdrawal; guilt, depression, and anxiety; repeated re-telling of the event

    • Middle and High School - Decreased academic performance, attention/concentration, and attendance; avoidance, withdrawal, high risk behaviors or substance abuse, difficulty with peer relations, nightmares, flashbacks, emotional numbing or depression

  • Grieving does not have a timeline. Schools should be aware of anniversaries, birthdays, developmental milestones, and other factors that could affect students months or years after the loss.

  • Grieving involves meeting specific milestones. Individuals are likely to experience (and often re-experience) some or all of the following adjustments/responses:

    • Accepting the death

    • Experiencing the feelings and emotional pain associated with death and separation from the deceased

    • Adjusting to changes and an altered environment that no longer includes the deceased

    • Finding ways to remember and memorialize the deceased

  • Grieving is a normal response to loss, but may require some support. Additional assistance should be provided when the following are noted:

    • Marked loss of interest in daily activities

    • Changes in eating and sleeping habits

    • Wishing to be with the deceased loved one

    • Fear of being alone

    • Significant decreases in academic performance and achievement

    • Increased somatic complaint

    • Changes in attendance patterns (e.g., chronic absenteeism)

  • Things to avoid

    • Euphemisms when referring to the deceased such as “they are sleeping,” or “they went away”

    • Minimizing statements such as “it was only your great-grandmother, (or dog, neighbor, etc.)”

    • Predicting a timeframe to complete the grieving process such as, “it has been a month, you should be getting over this,” or “the pain will fade soon”

    • Over-identifying, (e.g., “I know how you feel”)

    • Too much self-disclosure (e.g., I lost my mom to cancer) as not everyone handles self-disclosure the same way and the focus should remain on the student’s grief

  • Things to do

    • Maintain routines as normally as possible

    • Ask questions to ascertain the youth’s understanding of the event and emotional state

    • Give the youth permission to grieve

    • Provide age and developmentally-appropriate answers

    • Connect the bereaved with helping professionals and other trusted mentors and adults

    • Encourage students to adopt adaptive coping strategies, particularly ones that will involve interaction with other students (e.g., sports, clubs)

    • Educate teachers and families about what is healthy grief and how to support the student

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Children's Grief Partners

We are grateful to be a part of a committed community of agencies and organizations who provide support to grieving children. 

School Grief Support Online Resources

American Academy of Pediatrics Disaster Preparedness Initiative
Guidelines on promoting adjustment and helping children cope

The Coalition to Support Grieving Students
Video and downloadable grief-support modules for school professionals on conversation and support, developmental and cultural considerations, practical considerations, reactions and triggers, professional preparation and self-care, and crisis and special circumstances

Eluna
A resource center to find information about bereavement centers, camps and programs, and related resources

The National Alliance for Grieving Children (NAGC)

Provides a network for nationwide communication between hundreds of professionals and volunteers who want to share ideas, information and resources with each other to better support the grieving children and families they serve in their own communities

New York Life Foundation Parents and Families Support
Tools and guides, personal stories, essays, and other resources that to help parents and family members navigate a loss

Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) Technical Assistance Center
Supporting schools, school districts, and institutions of higher education (IHEs), with their community partners, in the development of high-quality emergency operations plans (EOPs) and comprehensive emergency management planning efforts