Helping Students Deal With Death & Grief

  • There are many resources available in print and online that address helping children and teens deal with death and grief. We have compiled a few here. Most are excepts from longer articles and the references have been provided to the more in-depth article. If you ever feel that your child needs support in dealing with grief, please contact your building principal. They will help get in touch with resources and personnel that get you connected with professionals who can help.

When Death Impacts Your School

  • This information is taken from Helping Grieving Children at School by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. Visit his full article at for more information.

    When a Classmate Dies

    Children aren't supposed to die. We all know and believe this truism. But the reality is, sometimes children do die. When a classmate dies, the other children will be profoundly impacted. They will probably feel a deep sense of loss and sadness, especially those who were among the classmate's close friends. Many will be curious. They will want to know what happened to Bobby and why. Some of the children will be afraid. When a classmate dies, children begin to understand that they, too, could die young. Other normal feelings include shock, anger and even relief.

    Because the death was part of the children's school lives, you will be the primary caregiver your students will look to for help with their grief. The first school day after the death, spend some class time explaining what happened. Remember to use simple, concrete language and honestly answer their questions. Model your own feelings. If you want to cry, cry-without apologizing for it. Later in the day you might have the children make drawings or write letters to give to the dead student's parents.

    Send a note home with students informing parents about the death. With parental permission, you might also arrange for interested students to attend the funeral. And don't forget, grief is a process, not an event. In the weeks and months to come, you will need to provide ongoing opportunities for your students to express their grief.

    Getting Extra Help for the Bereaved Student

    When a student seems to be having a particularly hard time dealing with grief, help him get extra help. Explore the full spectrum of helping services in your community. Hospice bereavement programs, church groups and private therapists are appropriate resources for some young people, while others may just need a little more time and attention from their parents or other caring adults.

    If you decide that individual counseling outside the realm of school counseling might be able to help the bereaved student, try to find a counselor who specializes in bereavement counseling and has experience working with children. Scan your Yellow Pages for counselors citing grief or bereavement as a specialty. Another credential to look for is certification from the Association for Death Education and Counseling.

    Guidelines for Helping Grieving Children

    • Be a good observer. A bereaved child's behavior can be very telling about her emotions.
    • Listen. Let each child teach you what grief is like for him. And don't rush in with explanations. Usually it's more helpful to ask exploring questions than to supply cookie-cutter answers.
    • Be patient. Children's grief isn't typically obvious and immediate.
    • Be honest. Don't lie to children about death. They need to know that it's permanent and irreversible. Don't use euphemisms that cloud these facts. Use simple and direct language.
    • Be available. Bereaved children need to know that they can count on the adults in their lives to listen to them, support them and love them.

    About the Author

    Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is a noted author, educator and practicing grief counselor. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado and presents dozens of grief-related workshops each year across North America. Among his books are Healing Your Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas and The Healing Your Grieving Heart Journal for Teens. For more information, write or call The Center for Loss and Life Transition, 3735 Broken Bow Road, Fort Collins, Colorado 80526, (970) 226-6050 or visit their website,

Grief Speaks

  • This information is taken from the following website: 


    Many professionals agree that there may be 5 responses that often accompany traumatic loss:

    • Shock
    • Disbelief or Denial
    • Anger
    • Guilt
    • Acknowledgement or acceptance 

    Please don't push yourself to move faster than you already are going. You will probably not have the strength to do certain things at this time, so don't. If you have to do something enlist help from a trusted person. Your mind and body are slowly adjusting to the reality of this tragedy.

    Many talk about an intense yearning for their loved one. You may have an overwhelming feeling of wanting and needing them back, even if for one brief moment. Many share how they expect them to call, walk through the door at anytime. Joan Didion who wrote the Year of Magical Thinking (following the sudden death of her husband) kept his shoes by the front door knowing that at any moment he would walk through the front door and need his shoes. You may call out to them, have dreams of them or have nightmares. You may decide to not touch any of their things. Please take your time, if you can, on big decisions.  Don't allow others to tell you what you should do. So many have shared with me (myself included) that they removed all of the loved one's clothing immediately at the prompting of "helpful friends and family" only to later on regret having done so. 

    Many talk about anger at the world. Some feel angry at the person they feel may have been responsible, even if it seems illogical. We want to blame someone for this tragedy. We may blame loved ones, ourselves, God, the doctor, the funeral director and even those who are trying to help.  Anger can be a very normal and natural response to loss, especially traumatic loss. You had no control over what happened.  Please try not to let your anger destroy you. Don't allow yourself to engage in violence. Find healthy ways to express your anger and even rage. Find constructive ways to get it out. Some smash a tennis ball against a wall, punch a punching bag, shoot baskets, run, walk, bike, chop wood, fix things around the house, yell and scream, cry, talk about it, write about it, create something lasting to remember the person, and get involved in a cause, are a few of the things that grievers have shared with me.  

    You are not going crazy. You are in mourning. In a moment our entire life has changed. It will never be the same as it was before this traumatic and sudden loss. So many talk about trying to "get back to normal". I find that we have to accept the fact that we will be living a "new normal". Others around us may want us to get back to the way we used to be. But we have changed. Many things in our life seem different. Some drop those who are not helpful in their lives, while others expand their circle to include more and more people. We do remember those who "let us grieve" in our own ways and in our own time without casting judgment. Some want us to "get over it" and "move one". That feels impossible. As one woman shared with me following the sudden death of her son," don't they know that each and every day that I wake up I am moving on...and it is agonizing for me to move on without him."  Many share that they feel that their legs are lead weights after a sudden loss. They can't move. They have difficulty swallowing. They feel exhausted in a way never imagined. They are grieving. 

  • List of Things to Consider:

    • DO listen. Grieving student need a safe, trusted adult who will listen to them.
    • DO follow routines. Routines provide a sense of safety which is very comforting to the grieving student.
    • DO set limits. Just because students are grieving, doesn't mean that rules don't apply. When grieving, students may experience lapses in concentration or exhibit risk taking behavior. Setting clear limits provides a more secure and a safer environment for everyone under these circumstances.
    • DO NOT suggest that the student has grieved long enough.
    • DO NOT indicate that the student should get over it and move on.
    • DO NOT act as if nothing happened.
    • DO NOT say things like:
      • "It could be worse."
      • "I know how you feel."
      • "You'll be stronger because of this."

    Taken from

Additional Resources