for talking with children and young adults about the death of a fellow student, staff member, teacher, family member, or friend will vary greatly depending on the age and maturity level of the audience.
Tasking classroom teachers with sharing the news and facilitating discussion may be appropriate for younger children; however, older students may be more likely to already have information about the event so may be more interested in information about what happens next, such as memorials, opportunities for grieving, etc.
Reading a brief statement to students, within small, naturally occurring groups such as homeroom or first-period class, can be used for initial notification and to outline support services that will be provided. It is important that schools plan for notifying students who are not on campus at the time (e.g., those who are 6 When considering what to say, the goal of the communication should be kept in focus: to assist those who are grieving in expressing their feelings and reactions in a safe and supportive environment without trying to alter those feelings.
Appropriate Statements: “I’m so sorry to hear about your brother’s death. Is there something that I can do that will be helpful?”
“I am so sad to hear about your friend’s death; I can only imagine what you may be going through.”
“I heard that your cousin died last week. I understand that it may be difficult to concentrate or learn as well when you are grieving; I would like you to let me know if you find yourself having any difficulty with your school work so that we can figure out together how to make it easier for you during this difficult time.”
“I’m so sorry that your teacher died. Please know that I am here whenever you want to talk or just wish to be with someone.”
Potentially Unhelpful Approaches and Corresponding Statements: Emphasizing a positive perspective or trying to cheer people up
“At least he had a good life before he died.”
“I’m sure you will feel better soon.” Encouraging them to be strong or hide their feelings “You don’t want to upset the other students or have them see you cry.” Telling them you know how they are feeling or ought to be feeling
“I know exactly what you are going through.”
“You must be angry.” Instead, demonstrate your own feelings and express sympathy. Competing for sympathy
“Both of my parents died when I was your age.”