It’s typical for parents and caregivers to feel apprehension about kids heading back to school after they’ve experienced the death of someone they love. After all, the lazy days of summer can often provide for flexible schedules and fun activities. Parents and caregivers are often eager to provide their children with these fun forms of distraction, which they hope will allow them to feel like “regular kids” again. Heading back to school can often be a jarring reality-check for families, and caregivers may be concerned that their kids won’t be ready to adapt to the routine and increased responsibilities that accompany school. It’s important to remember that even though the return to school is a big transition, the predictability, structure, and social support of school can feel comforting and safe for kids and can help to create a sense of normalcy during a time when everything might feel uncertain.
Caregivers may find the following tips helpful in preparing their kids for the return to school:
- Inform school administrators and classroom teachers that your child(ren) is grieving and may need extra academic, behavioral, and emotional support. Tell your child(ren) that you will share this information with their teachers so this does not come as a surprise to them.
- Inform the school counselor that your child(ren) is grieving. School counselors can be wonderful allies for children to turn to when they are experiencing difficulties at school, and they can provide connection to other community supports if needed. Request that the school counselor provides regular check-ins and inform the child(ren) that they can also seek out the school counselor when needed. Ensure the school counselor maintains open lines of communication with teachers and caregivers.
- Prepare your child(ren) for possible questions and comments that might come from their peers about the death. The understanding of death and dying shifts as children grow and develop. Your child’s classmates, particularly younger ones, may be unable to filter their comments and questions and may inadvertently say things to that are unhelpful and insensitive to your grieving child(ren). It’s important to prepare grieving children for this possibility and to give them the right to choose which classmates, if any, to share news about the death. Children should be made aware of safe school-based adults they can turn to if they need help with peers’ comments.
- Find a balance of flexibility and understanding while maintaining school-based expectations and responsibilities. Caregivers and school staff should be aware that grieving children may experience challenges with concentration as well as emotional and behavioral regulation at school. While accommodations can be made for grieving children to offset these challenges, it is important for adults to maintain consistent boundaries and expectations for grieving kids. Grieving kids should be supported to follow the same school-rules as their peers, to maintain consistent school attendance, and to meet school responsibilities related to school work and behavior. Maintaining these boundaries helps grieving kids to know what to expect, which can create a sense of safety and predictability at school and at home.
- Support kids to learn healthy coping skills they can use at school. These can include simple relaxation exercises they can perform at their desks or learning to identify when additional support from school counselors or teachers is needed. For some grieving kids, additional counseling resources outside of school and home may be needed to help them cope.
The Child & Teen Grief Program at Transitions GriefCare has individual, family, and group-based services and supports that can help kids to learn more about grief, coping, and making memories while also creating opportunities for grieving children, teens, and families to connect with one another. Upcoming Fall 2018 services that may be particularly helpful to grieving kids returning to school include:
Camp Reflections – A grief camp for grieving children in elementary and middle school occurring Friday and Saturday, September 28-29, 2018.
Healing Hearts – A four-part grief group for elementary and middle school-aged kids beginning October 15 from 6:00-7:30 p.m.
Teen Group -A four-part grief group exclusively for teens beginning October 22 from 6:00-7:30 p.m.
Please call the Grief Center at 919-719-7199 for registration details and information about these and many other services we provide for children and teens.
–Stephanie S., Child & Teen Grief Counselor