Last Updated on February 28, 2020
Children and teens returning to school after a death in the family – it’s a difficult, sensitive, and personal issue. Here are some thoughts.
A Brief Guide on Returning to School After the Death of a Close Friend or Family Member
Returning to school after a death in the family can churn the feelings of any child. At any age, a child wants to fit in with his or her peers, but the emotional journey of grief can make them feel as if they don’t belong with the group.
This post is intended to serve as a brief guide for parents. It contains a list of resources on how to help a child through their grief, to help them realize that they aren’t alone.
1. Give the child time
Grief is a process, and the loss of a loved one is a mark that a person will carry with them for the rest of their lives. But it doesn’t have to be a burden. There may be pressure from some, telling the child that they need to “be strong” and “buck-up”, but this can leave the issues of grief unresolved and draw out the process. It’s important to give the child the time they need to think, say, feel and express their emotions.
2. Be proactive
While your child needs time and space to work through things, that doesn’t mean you as a parent should not do anything. Don’t be afraid to sit down with your child and with their teachers or counselor to talk about the situation. Your goal is to help give the child comfort, along with the knowledge that he or she isn’t alone in the process of grief. You might include a close friend of your child in the conversation.
As the weeks go by, pay attention to their schoolwork- not only the grades, but (respectfully) the content. And if necessary, don’t be afraid to seek the help of a professional counselor should the child be having a particularly difficult time.
3. Allow for privacy but no secrets
The child may desire to keep the death of their loved one a secret upon returning to school, to keep others from seeing them as different. But this behavior can quickly turn into anxiety. The child will go through the school day in fear that he or she will be confronted with the pain of their loss. And the fear of being identified as “the girl whose mom died,” instead of how they were perceived before, can be a drowning force.
4. Additional Information
Here is more info and resources on helping a child with returning to school after a death in the family:
- 9 tips on going back to school after a death from What’s Your Grief
- Grand Folk has a number of articles on the subject of children and death
- Here is our take on talking to children about death
- Help Guide.org has a great article on coping with grief
- Do a search for any local support groups or services