When a child experiences a death in the family it is important for the child to feel the support of his/her teacher as soon as possible. Attend the funeral if possible. Other classmates could attend as well if the family feels that it is appropriate. Speak to the other classmates in class about death and tell them that one of their friends has lost someone very much loved. Speak to the grieving child privately, giving assurance that you are there to help and to understand.
The child’s behaviour may be a problem for a while. The teacher’s compassionate understanding is crucial. If it is necessary to talk to the child’s parents keep in mind that all members of the family may be suffering and therefore unable to provide much assistance. Children can be helped to express their emotions through art, music and story writing.
Students may treat their bereaved classmate with avoidance or “babying” behaviour. There are excellent story books which explain death as a painful but natural event in the cycle of life. After the class discusses the meaning of these concepts at their own level of understanding, they may be less inclined to pursue harmful responses.
The death of a classmate illuminates for children their own mortality and evokes the fear of each child’s own death. Children’s disruptive behaviour may be the visible reactions to the death of a classmate. Teachers can identify these difficulties as part of the grieving process. However, if there is loss of control, drug and /or alcohol abuse or declining grades, the teacher should refer the youngster to outside help. Bereaved Families of Ontario is able to offer assistance by sending trained speakers to the classroom or teacher’s groups.