Giving help in the early days

Returning to school after a death can feel frightening, embarrassing and confusing. Everyone experiences shock reactions in the early days after a death with intense physical reactions.

We all need explanations and reassurance that this is normal and does not last. Sudden death can cause heightened and prolonged shock reactions, especially in cases of suicide, murder or manslaughter.

Sometimes children and young people can be overwhelmed by their emotions but at others they can appear not to be affected at all. This is normal can be because the routine of school can be a helpful distraction from their grief but it can also confuse them- and us!

Be sensitive to their awkwardness and embarrassment in talking about the death to their friends and staff

Tolerance of change, anxiety and stress of any sort can be lower for grieving children for many months after the death. Where possible give them notice of unexpected changes in school to curriculum, etc. This way they will cope better

Be aware that even if some children appear not to be demonstrating their grief in school they may be grieving elsewhere or may be unable to connect with their grief until later.

A planned and staged return to school can be very helpful  if they have been absent for some time in building confidence, coping strategies and preventing further difficulties

What can help:

  • Ask them if they want you to tell their friends what has happened
  • Realise that leaving the rest of the family will be difficult- let them keep in touch or arrange part time attendance for a while
  • Help them re-establish routine but let them know who they can go to in school when their thoughts and feelings are difficult- strategies such as time out cards help them manage this well
  • Grief can significantly affect our ability to concentrate, whatever our age! Discuss with staff to ways to lighten their academic workload for a while. Some subjects trigger more intense feelings and reminders of their grief.
  • Be sensitive to dates- anniversaries, inquests, mother’s/father’s day. Anxiety about the forthcoming dates can occur for weeks before the date and not just on the day. Discuss with them how they want to handle them.

See the links page for useful books for children that might be helpful as you try to support them.

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