Academic journal article Education

Teachers and Schools Can Aid Grieving Students

Academic journal article Education

Teachers and Schools Can Aid Grieving Students

Article excerpt

One universal goal for teachers and schools is to care about the overall development of each student. Recognizing how individuals differ in their abilities and concerns is essential in providing an environment for effective learning. Children vary in their rate of growth in emotional, cognitive, physical, and other abilities. They also differ in personal experiences and problem-solving skills. There are further distinctions depending upon whether a pupil is male or female. Add the elements of change that occur in the life of a child when a significant one dies, and differences are magnified.

Do many children suffer from bereavement? It is estimated that at any given time in the average classroom, there are at least two students who are grieving from the death of a loved one. The most common loss is that of a grandparent or great-grandparent (Glass, 1991). However, the decedent may be a parent, sibling, other relative, or friend. Steen (1998) reports that 1 out of 20 American children under age 15 has lost one or both parents to death. Though reaction to bereavement varies from child to child and by gender, the death of a parent or other loved one can bring many changes into the life of the griever.


There are three reasons for writing this article: The first is to provide information for teachers and schools so they can understand some of the grieving child's behaviors, inability to concentrate, changes in academic performances, loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, and possible suicide attempts; the second is to encourage school personnel to establish a procedure for working with parents and bereaved pupils; and the third is to promote the introduction of teaching units about death and grief that are developmentally appropriate, beginning with pre-kindergarten and continuing through high school.

Where to Begin

Teachers, other school personnel, and health care providers can better assist each child in the grieving process when they work together and have important facts and support provided by the parent (Hersh, 1995) or other caregiver. Both adults and children, however, need to be assured that the factual information will be held in confidence, not be spread as gossip, and be utilized to develop a plan to aid and monitor the child's overall development during these trying times.

Getting the Facts

Most parents are open to assistance and suggestions (Hersh, 1995). To help the student, the school needs background information from a parent or parents. After the individuals jointly agree upon a time to meet, the school can utilize predetermined questions and informal communications to secure contributions that will enable the school team to develop a plan for the child. This interaction aids in establishing a bond between the school and parent. Some pertinent questions follow; the responses will provide relevant facts that can be useful to the teacher, school counselor, school nurse, and principal:

1. What was the relationship and attachment between the decedent and the child (Barrett, 1995; Hersh, 1995)?

2. Who provided the initial facts to the child about the death of the loved one, the "who, what, when, where, why, and how" information about the dying?

3. Has the youngster had prior experiences with grief? What were some of the actions and reactions to the earlier event?

4. How much information does the student have pertaining to the irreversibility or permanency and universality of death (Corr, 1995b)?

5. What does the student know about the grieving process?

6. Does the child recognize that grief, anxiety, and stress can impact learning, test results, concentration, energy levels, emotions, behaviors, relationships, and feelings of wellness?

7. Does the pupil have the name, telephone number, and location of someone who is trustworthy, available, and a good listener so that feelings and experiences can be shared? …

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