“It can be really difficult having to talk with children about a death and see how sad they are.” (Special Education Teacher)
This module underscores the important role of professional self-care for school personnel as they provide support to grieving students. There are few ways to have a more meaningful and lasting impact on children than providing support as they cope with one of life’s most difficult challenges. However, joining students as they cope with a painful loss can be difficult for educators, and taking steps to care for oneself and one’s colleagues is critical.
Offering support to grieving students and their families can be highly gratifying. School professionals are offering vital support during a critical time in a student’s life.
But this can be challenging, too. Powerful emotions are difficult to witness, and the grief of a child can be especially unsettling. Educators may find their own past experiences of loss activated by a student’s grief. They may develop new worries about an illness in themselves, a friend or a family member. They may experience new apprehension about their own or others’ mortality.
Sometimes, school professionals are uncomfortable providing support for grieving children. They may believe they are unprepared or have too many other stressful experiences in their lives at the moment. This can lead to feelings of guilt for “not doing better,” or a sense of insufficiency for not being more prepared. These are fairly common reactions. In some cases, it may be best for an educator to turn to someone else on the team to step into the support role.
It is important for educators to get support themselves when they are interacting with grieving students. Talking with friends, family and colleagues is usually helpful. Sometimes, it is also useful to speak with a mental health professional, bereavement specialist, or employee assistance program.