Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Issue - Bringing Comfort to the Bereaved: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The Issue - Bringing Comfort to the Bereaved: News

Article excerpt

When dealing with a student's grief there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but acknowledging their loss is a vital first step.

Every 22 minutes, the parent of someone under the age of 16 dies, according to UK childhood bereavement charity Winston's Wish. This means that, as a teacher, at some point you are very likely to have a student under your care who loses their mother or father.

Responding to this can be an intimidating responsibility. Dealing with bereaved adults is hard enough - knowing what to say and how much to talk about the deceased is a constant worry - but with a child the difficulties are multiplied. However, the situation is one that must be faced: the support a child receives at school will have a direct impact on how they cope.

Louise Onslow, a clinical psychologist and senior practitioner at Winston's Wish, says it is "extremely important" that your first step be to acknowledge what has happened.

"Offering a short sentence registering the death will mean the world to the child and show that you care," she says, adding that this should not be a gushing speech or an extended conversation: "A simple form of words along the lines of 'I am really sorry to hear about your father's death' will be enough to assure the child that you have acknowledged the event and that you are there to offer support."

Jill Adams from charity Child Bereavement UK agrees, and reassures teachers that they should not worry too much about the form of words they use. "There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this, so don't be afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing - it is doing nothing that causes the greatest upset."

It is important for the school to contact the relatives to find out how they want to deal with the situation. The student may not volunteer information about how they are feeling or how they would prefer things to be handled, so teachers should seek out other sources of information.

The next stage is putting measures in place to ensure that the child is supported in the short and long term. A crucial aspect is giving students the opportunity to talk.

"Ensure that someone the child trusts and feels comfortable talking to is available throughout the school day," Onslow says. "The child can then approach them if they feel distressed and get the valuable one-to-one time they need. …

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