Recognising the Impact of bereavement on a child or young person

The loss of someone close through death is a traumatic and painful event for the majority of people. For many children and young people the death of a parent, sibling, friend or relative can be extremely difficult because of the child’s inability to understand and articulate their feelings. Similarly young people who have been bereaved whilst they are on the cusp of adulthood can find the emotions that they are experiencing to be frighteningly intense.

Returning to school

Some children and young people who have been bereaved want to return to school fairly soon after the death as this offers some sort of normality and routine. That is why teaching staff need to be suitably prepared to recognise the impact the bereavement will have had upon the child or young person and be equipped to support them.

Talking about the bereavement

Discussing death and bereavement can prove a difficult subject for teachers and pupils alike therefore questions and debates that arise pertaining to this topic should be encouraged, as and when they occur.

A school staff member able to recognise some of the potential behaviours that a bereaved child or young person may exhibit is in a better position to support the child or young person as they grieve. As the nature of grief is individual it is essential to remember that no two children or young people will grieve in the same way and exhibit the same behaviours. For a comprehensive overview of the changing perceptions and understandings of death that children and young people commonly experience as they develop, please see the Children and Young People section of this website.

Bereaved children and young people require time, patience and compassion from school staff. The familiarity of school surroundings and existing rapports with teachers, dinner ladies, etc, can be a useful vehicle to encourage communication and to allow the child or young person to convey their feelings.

It is not uncommon for some bereaved children and young people to feel like they are going mad as the process of grieving takes its toll. It is essential for school staff to reassure the bereaved child or young person that they are not going mad and that the feelings they are experiencing are a very normal and natural reaction to the death of someone close.

Routine and empathy

The need to adhere to the bereaved child or young person’s pre bereavement routine whilst in school is paramount as it will help promote security and enable the child or young person to gradually accept the reality of life continuing and the potential for future achievements.

Although empathy and compassion are important for school staff when supporting a bereaved child or young person, it must also be mentioned that forming a strong emotional attachment with the bereaved child or young person can prove damaging to the child in the future and can emotionally drain the staff member. Professional agencies such as Cruse Bereavement Care exist to provide support to bereaved children and young people, and this is worth remembering in order to safeguard both the child or young person and school staff members. 

How can I help?

  • A balance is needed to ensure that you can efficiently support the bereaved student whilst keeping their usual school routine as normal as possible.
  • Ask the school’s departmental heads / senior teaching staff about the possibility of school staff attending training relating to bereaved children and young people. Cruse Bereavement Care offers bespoke training nationally. To find out more please follow the links on this site.
  • Stock resources and literature to help support bereaved children and young people and those supporting them. A wide range of books and resources for children, young people, families and professionals are available to purchase via this website.
  • Ensure that existing school policies and procedures concerning bullying include guidelines for working with bullied bereaved children and young people.

Further help

A Schools Pack is available from our online shop.

Many of our Areas offer support to children and young people. Find your local Cruse service and contact them to see what is offered in your area.

Our website Hope Again is a website designed for young people by young people. It includes information and forums where young people can share their experiences.