Talking to students about death of a classmate
The death of a student is traumatic for both school staff and their classmates. Here’s how to approach talking to students about the death of a classmate.
The death of a classmate can make students feel anxious, challenging feelings of security they might have felt beforehand.
It’s likely that many students will have questions. School staff should try to answer these openly and honestly. It’s important to use language that is appropriate to the students’ age, as well as their level of understanding.
What to expect
You may notice that lessons become disrupted – it’s normal for students to become restless and unable to concentrate. There might be an increase in difficult behaviour, and grades might go down.
If the death happened on the school premises, some students might not want to return to school. They might be scared if dying in a similar way, or in the same place their classmate did.
If any of the students witnessed the death, they might need specialist help. This should be discussed with their family before any referrals are made.
How to talk to students
You might need to talk to your class, year group or school, about the death.
Before you do, make sure you have the permission of the family of the student who has died. You’ll want to make sure that you only discuss details that they have consented to.
When talking about what happened:
- Explain things in a sensitive and truthful way.
- Encourage students to ask questions – this will help any misinformation or rumours that might come up.
- Reassure students that school staff are there to listen and support them whilst they grieve.
It might be useful to allow class/school discussions, where students can communicate their feelings and be reassured.
Set up ground rules, such as:
- No talking over, or interrupting someone, when they are speaking
- No making fun of others comments or their questions
These can help encourage students to share their feelings.
Don’t be alarmed if some of the students laugh or make inappropriate comments – this can be the result of shock.
Some students might start crying. Make sure that, if anyone feels upset, they can talk privately to a trusted member of staff.
It might be useful to have one or two colleagues with you when you share the news. They can take any distressed students into a quiet room. They can also look out for any students who look particularly anxious or unsettled.
Attending the Funeral
There might be students who’d like to go to the funeral of the student who has died. Encourage them, but make sure that their family, and the family of the person who has died, will allow them to attend.
If the families consent, explain to the students what the funeral will be like, and what to expect.
Talk with students and other school staff about holding a memorial service. It might be helpful to plant a tree, or erect a plaque, in remembrance. If this is something the school would like to do, involve students who have said they’d like to take part.
The school could open a book of remembrance dedicated to the student who has died. Students and school staff can write about them, and include pictures and poetry. This can be very cathartic to their classmates and friends. You might even want to give the book to the family of the student who died.