How Educators Can Support Grieving Children

How Educators Can Support Grieving Children In the Back-to-School Season and Throughout the Year


During the Busy Back-to-School Season, Grieving Children Often Overlooked

When children flood back into classrooms at the end of the summer, they bring with them new school supplies, stories of summer adventures, and expectations for the year ahead. But many also return with a burden that their teachers, administrators and classmates may not know anything about – crippling grief over the loss of a loved one.

Childhood bereavement is surprisingly common – one in every seven Americans loses a sibling or parent before turning 20. And while transitioning back to school can be difficult for many children, it poses a special challenge for children who have experienced a loss, confronting them with a host of complex and difficult emotions. In the classroom and the schoolyard, grief often manifests itself in decreased academic performance, social withdrawal, and new behavioral problems.

For better or for worse, the response of teachers and classmates can play a decisive role in a child’s grief journey: During the week, most children spend more of their waking hours at school than they do at home. A child’s school becomes an important frame of reference for his or her grief, as children are finely attuned to the social cues they receive over the course of a school day.

But many teachers struggle to respond in the wake of a student’s loss, feeling unequipped to handle his or her grief. In a recent survey on grief at school conducted by the New York Life Foundation in conjunction with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), 7 in 10 teachers reported having at least one grieving student currently in their classroom – yet only 7 percent reported having had any amount of bereavement training.

A Teacher’s Response Can Make All the Difference

This fall, as students settle back into the classroom, teachers should feel empowered to reach out and express care to their students who have suffered a loss. Teachers are not grief counselors or therapists, and they should not be expected to take on that role, but any teacher can make an impact on a grieving child’s experience at school simply by showing that they care.

Taking relatively small, basic steps to demonstrate support – expressing sympathy, checking in with a parent or guardian, offering extra academic assistance – can go a long way in easing a child’s grief journey.

Places to Turn for Guidance

To learn more about how to support grieving kids in a school setting, please check out any of the following specialized resources:

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