How to Support Schools and Students Dealing with Loss

Buddy Bench Ireland

Schools

When there is a death in the school community the impact can be quite significant and every school should think about having a critical incident management plan which will help them take the appropriate steps when a sudden tragedy occurs.

Deaths and other incidents do happen in all communities some having a greater effect in schools. Ideally they should be prepared with a well- developed plan and have a team in place with clearly defined roles.

If a death does occur, schools should often have also consider seeking external support. Thus the need for our "Dealing with Loss" add-on to our programmes which can be tailor made to each school.  Read More

This will vary between schools and there may be clear protocols and policies about the action to take when a death occurs in the school community.

Often both staff and children are  impacted by a death of a community member, parent or pupil and it can help to have somebody with training and some distance who can ‘walk beside’ the staff to plan and implement the response.

Action Plan

Don’t jump to conclusions or react too quickly – take a planned approach (with a team) to gathering and confirming information firstly, work with the family to plan what and how information can be shared.

Staff shouldn’t share information with students in large groups – instead, after permission has been granted, they should consider how to tailor delivery of information.

This might mean sharing of information to individuals or small groups (for those closest to the person who died) as well as in classroom groups.

Supporting the teacher with this task is important.  This enables pupils and staff to take in the information, ask questions and express feelings in a familiar and safe environment.

The response that is best in the period immediately after an incident or death is Psychological First Aid, which recognises that people benefit from some support, information and connection with each other but that most people will recover well from incidents such as a death in the school community.

Students

Grief may be an unavoidable part of life but it can have a huge impact on students as well as their ability to learn – here, one community psychologist offers her advice on helping kids through it.

We know that if a child is experiencing difficulties with emotions their learning will be impacted so school staff are very aware of these links and see their role as being about the whole child – which includes how they are feeling.

In our workshops we are having conversations with children about how they feel. A child who is sad or grieving will hopefully feel comfortable to share that with their teacher.
For those who aren’t able to be so open, there are some common signs to look out for which may indicate a child is struggling – however, she these will vary depending on age, cultural background and personality.
Typical behaviours can include crying, showing signs of anxiety, becoming easily upset, irritable or angry when they usually wouldn’t, being extra clingy to parents/carers or siblings, losing interest in school work or activities, regressing behaviours where the child acts younger than they usually do. As teachers get to know children very well, they will often notice that something the child is doing is out of character for them.
Ways Staff Can Support their Students
  • Noticing that the child is showing some changes or signs that something is wrong if the first step, then “checking in” to open the door to a conversation.
  • Listen when the child wants to talk
  • Protect the child’s privacy by not talking in front of other children
  • Problem solve with the child about what will help at school. For example, a child who is grieving may want to have a picture or photo on their table or have some quiet time to draw or write about their feelings when they’re feeling sad or upset.
  • Be ready to check in with the family and work together.
  • If the child is continuing to be upset over time and efforts to support him or her aren’t making a difference, be mindful of the limits of your role and consider when to talk with parents and the school wellbeing person about a possible referral for specialist support
  • Take care of yourself too – hearing sad stories and seeing a child who is upset can be distressing and sometimes remind staff members of their own losses.
What Not to Do
  • Certainly not to dismiss the signs or hope the child will “get over it” – it’s important that children feel heard and understood.
  • On the other extreme, don’t over-react to a child who is distressed or their behaviours related to distress. Listen to understand what behaviours might mean and problem solve together with the child and family so that they see that feelings are normal and the school will support them.
If your school wishes to avail of our Dealing with Loss programme, email hello@buddybench.ie or call us on 056 7702027.
 

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