Supporting bereaved children and young people on their return to school during the Coronavirus pandemic.
The outbreak of Covid-19 has meant that many aspects of children's lives have changed. The ‘safe haven’ of school has been closed to many children. At Slide Away we believe that school communities are well placed to support children bereaved during the pandemic as they return to school.
We are exploring a number of possibilities to ensure that we can resume our support of bereaved children and young people as soon as possible. In the meantime, we have put together some information that we hope will be helpful for staff in schools. Future support may also include additional training for our School Bereavement Contacts and further information about this will be available in due course.
Before the child returns to school
- Identify a member of staff who will liaise with the family
- Write to the family to offer condolences and include a special note or card for the child
- If the child is in a year group that hasn’t yet returned to school, provide the family with resources to support the child e.g. the book The Most Colourful Creature in the Jungle (obtainable from Slide Away- more information here)
- Obtain permission from the family to share news of the death with staff and pupils. Acknowledge that this may be difficult for the family, but it is better to have the facts
- Teachers can ease the child’s return to school by preparing the class. What is shared with the class and how they might respond should be discussed with the bereaved family
- If a child is struggling to return to school, the class might like to keep in touch with them by sending letters, but the child should not be put under pressure by the class to return
- Be aware of the beliefs held by the child’s family. In Kent, most of the world religions are represented and a lot of people describe themselves as having no religion at all.
What you can do when the child returns to school
- Know that you have heard about their bereavement and that you are there for them if needed. “I was sad to hear that your .... has died”, for example, will show that you know and care
- When a bereaved child returns to school, they may find it helpful to have the support of a small group of their peers
- Offer a time out card and someone to talk to - someone the child trusts and feels comfortable with
- Identify a member of staff to regularly ‘touch base’ with the child
- Keep lines of communication open with the family
- Ask the pupil what you can do to help and don’t be afraid to show your feelings
- Listen to the child as sometimes this is all that is needed - children often tell us that they talk to their pets
- Answer questions honestly
- Respect the child’s beliefs about death
- Reassure them that feelings such as guilt, anger and sadness are normal when someone has died
- Find ways for the child to express their feelings - Slide Away can suggest some creative activities
- Acknowledge their anxieties
- Be aware of topics in the curriculum that may be sensitive to the child
- Keep a record of significant dates for future reference to support the child on anniversaries
- Remember that children don’t always feel comfortable being treated differently
- Don’t use euphemisms such as ‘gone to sleep’ or ‘on a journey’, but use the words ‘died’ and ‘death’
- Be patient - grieving is mentally and physically tiring. Allow the child extra time to complete their work and give praise for what they do manage
- Don’t assume that the child who is quiet and getting on with their work is okay. They may just be keeping a lid on their feelings, but those feelings are still there and they may need support in the future
- Be available - just being caring and sensitive to the child’s grief can make a huge difference.
A child’s behaviour following a bereavement
There is no right way to respond when you are told that someone you love has died. Children will express their grief in different ways and their responses will also be dependent on their age and developmental stage. However, the following list gives the most common immediate and longer-term grief reactions from children:
- Upset and tearful
- Appearing not to care
- Continuing with their usual activities and routines
- Difficulty with sleeping
- Being clingy
- Extremes in emotions
- Anger and aggression
- Not wanting to go to school
- Afraid to leave their parent or carer
- Physical symptoms
- Difficulty with concentration
- Falling out with their peers
Looking after yourself and your colleagues
Working with bereaved children is sad and can be emotionally draining. Therefore:
- Recognise that your own experience of loss may be re-awakened;
- make sure that you have someone to talk to if you need to;
- Look out for your colleagues - are they coping?
- Take time to do something to make yourself feel better. We talk to the children about an ‘emotional’ first aid kit and you may find you need to think of something that helps you to cope if you are having a down day;
- Remember that to be of help to the child, you need to take care of yourself.
- Contact Slide Away if you would like to talk to someone, ask for advice or get further information. We will be able to direct you to National Bereavement Charities who have resources, chat-lines and on-line support available.