There is no road map for a child to follow when he or she is grieving the loss of a sibling or classmate. Students who have suffered the death of a brother or sister (or a close friend) are often referred to as the “forgotten mourners” because so much attention is paid to the parents of the child who has died. While no one can know what children are thinking, clues can be taken from their behavior.
You may notice many different reactions:
- Symptoms of bodily distress
Understanding Feelings of Grief
Create an atmosphere of open acceptance that invites questions and fosters confidence that you are concerned. When a student or a brother or sister of a student dies, teachers should examine their own feelings about death and grief. Share your feelings with the children within your class. Know that it’s okay to cry, be sad or angry, and even smile. Children cannot be shielded from death and grief, and a thoughtful approach taken in the classroom can help them in the future. If a student seeks you out to talk, be available and really listen.
Grief in the Classroom
Remember that the class functions as a group, and sharing grief may benefit all. Try not to single out the grieving child for special privileges or compensations. While this is tempting, the student needs to feel a part of the peer group and should be expected to function accordingly. Temper your expectations with kindness and understanding, but continue to expect the student to function.
It can mean a lot to the family and community when you reach out to the parents of a student who died to explore ways that the school might help in the remembrance of the child. While this gesture could be met with tears, know that they will be tears of gratitude and that your offer of support will always be remembered by the family.
As the weeks, months, and years pass, children and young people will continue to deal with the death of a family member as they grow and mature – continue to be available!
(portions reprinted from Compassionate Friends)