New research shows how bereaved children suffer at school

A new research review highlights the devastating effect losing a parent can have on children's education.

July 4, 2022

In a new review published in Cruse journal Bereavement, researchers Atle Dyregrov, Martin Lytje and Sophie Rex Christensen looked at a wide range of research into children’s experience and attainment at school after a parent dies. They looked at the evidence for how being bereaved affects well-being and relationships in class, and how it affects grades, exam results and the level of education reached.

Effects on grades and achievement

In assessing the available research the authors found confirmation of the negative impact of losing a parent on both grades and the level of education they completed. In particular:

  • Children from homes with low socio-economic resources underperform academically, and this Impact is stronger on girls.
  • Having a well-educated surviving parent reduces risk.
  • Deaths due to external factors (ie suicide or accidents) are particularly associated with reduced completion of education.

Effects on well-being and relationships

The researchers found that less work has been done on how children and young people’s well-being and relationships in school are affected after bereavement. However there is evidence that students can struggle mentally and also find it difficult to reconnect with their peers.

“The bereaved students were rarely prepared for the sheer number of challenges that arose at school in the wake of their losses, such as how to talk to classmates about what had happened and deal with difficult emotions when at school … the bereaved children felt different from their classmates and alone with their grief.” (1)

“…as time passed, staff often forgot that bereaved students had lost a parent. This led to incidents in which teachers discussed discussed death in class without warning the bereaved students beforehand. The bereaved students described such situations as ‘hell’” (2)

What can help

The researchers also looked at what factors can make a difference and make some recommendations for parents and those who work with grieving children in schools. They recommend:

  • Good support from remaining parents and teachers will help a child returning to school life following bereavement.
  • Schools need better follow-up procedures to make sure that bereaved students’ educational potential is realised.
  • Improving teachers’ knowledge about how bereavement impact children and their schooling will make them more comfortable in engaging with children.
  • Using available, and developing new, specific measures to assist with educational problems related to attention and memory problems could possibly be part of addressing academic difficulties.

Responding to the research, Alison Thomas, Children and Young People’s Service Development Manager for Cruse Bereavement Support said:

As part of our work with schools we provide in-person support to children and young people within the school setting, so we see first-hand how difficult it can be for a grieving young person to concentrate on school work. Our support allows them the time and space to verbalise and begin to understand their loss and associated emotions. We also offer training to school staff which is designed to increase knowledge, understanding and confidence when supporting or working with bereaved children and young people.

Further information

Download the full paper in our open-access online journal: The price of loss – how childhood bereavement impacts education

Cruse Bereavement Training – If you’d like further insights into supporting children and young people, our bereavement training is designed specifically for individuals that may work with, or come in contact with, grieving children and young adults. Find out more and view our upcoming dates below:
11th Oct
For more information please email [email protected]

Cruse information for schools

Previous journal article in Bereavement: Loss in the family – A reflection on how schools can support their students 

Cruse support for children and young people


  1. Lytje M (2018) Voices we forget—Danish students experience of returning to school following parental bereavement. OMEGA – Journal of Death and Dying, 78(1) 24–42.
  2. Lytje M (2016) Unheard voices: Parentally bereaved Danish students’ experiences and perceptions of the support received following the return to school. [Doctoral dissertation]. University of Cambridge.

Article authors

  • Atle Dyregrov: Centre for Crisis Psychology, Faculty of Psychology, University of Bergen, Norway
  • Martin Lytje: Centre for Crisis Psychology, Faculty of Psychology, University of Bergen, Norway; Danish Cancer Society, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Sophie Rex Christensen: Danish Cancer Society, Copenhagen, Denmark