Returning to school after someone dies

Preparing for a student to return to school after someone dies is important. Find out what to do beforehand, what to expect and how to continue to support them.

There isn’t a set time for a bereaved child or young person returning back to school.

The length of their absence will depend on:

  • The wishes and cultural beliefs of the family
  • The school’s policy
  • When the child/young person is ready to return

It’s becoming more common for schools to recommend that students return immediately. This is because a long absence can:

  • Increase a student’s anxieties 
  • Cause difficulties readjusting to school life

Preparing for their return

School staff should be aware that some bereaved children and young people may be anxious about returning to school. This can be because they’re worried about facing their friends, peers and staff. 

A bereaved student can experience separation anxiety when they return to school. This is a very normal reaction. They might be worried that something will happen to someone close whilst they’re at school.

It’s useful to appoint a member of staff to coordinate a bereaved student’s return. We recommend a teacher who the student trusts. They can make sure that the needs of the student have been discussed, and prepared for, before they return.

Where possible, arrange a meeting with the student and their family before they return.

This way, you can find out what the student’s wishes and concerns are. You can also find out what they want other students to know, and how they want to be treated. You can use this information to talk to staff and other students.

For example:

  • A bereaved student might say they don’t want their classmates to treat them any differently. 
  • Another bereaved student might ask that certain information is shared before they return. This is so that they don’t feel under pressure, and won’t have to repeat what has happened.

School staff need to prepare for cases where the student has been bereaved through murder, manslaughter or suicide, or where there has been media interest. They need to be aware of gossip, and the possible bullying of the bereaved student.

Any violence or abuse against the bereaved student should be addressed quickly.

Support on return

It’s very important that a bereaved student is told about the support available to them.

For instance, they should be reassured that if they’re having difficulty concentrating in lessons, they won’t get in trouble. Similarly, if work is not completed on time, that’s okay.

Allow them to take time out of a lesson if they feel that they’re struggling to cope. Make sure all of the teaching staff (including supply or agency staff) are made aware of the situation. If the student needs to leave the lesson, it’s important that they don’t get into trouble or be asked why they’re leaving.

We recommend involving the bereaved student’s closest friends when developing a support plan. Helping maintain their friendships will help them feel more “normal”, and encourage them to talk about their feelings. It’s important that the bereaved student’s friends have access to support too.

When talking and listening to a bereaved student, try and make sure this happens in a quiet room.

Need support for a bereaved student?

We have a range of services available for children and teenagers.