Grief in Schools and at Home

Approximately 1 in 20 children in the United States will suffer the loss of a parent will before the child is 16 years old.

Whether you are a parent or a teacher, you need to be aware of the signs of grief and be prepared ahead of time for how deal with it in a healthy and effective manner.

Because younger children have no language and no model for grieving until adults provide them. But this applies also for children and students and people of all ages. The words you use and the feelings you express will shape your students’ concept of loss and recovery for the rest of their lives. 

For some teachers, grief in the workplace is commonplace. But grief is rarely addressed at school. For teachers and school personnel also, the school culture will help or antagonize the grieving process.

In many schools and surrounding environments, there is ongoing, traumatic suffering in the forms of gang violence, domestic violence, socio-economic depression isolation, etc. Often in these communities, there is persistent, ongoing trauma in many forms.

There is also the real phenomenon of an individual teacher experiencing grief, whether it’s the loss of a student or faculty member, or the surrogate grief that is felt when a student or someone close has lost a family member.


What are some symptoms of grief?

For everyone, the symptoms of grief are usually similar. Although this is a list of feelings, we can be aware of the outward signs expressed by our children, so that we can attend to them when necessary: 

  • Trouble keeping up your normal routine

  • Anger

  • Confusion

  • Denial

  • Depression

  • Despair

  • Disbelief

  • Guilt

  • Humiliation

  • Sadness

  • Shock

What can we do? 

There are many ways to cope effectively with your pain.

The Mental Health Assn. of America has much valuable advice regarding grief: 

Seek out caring people.

Find relatives and friends who can understand your feelings of loss. Join support groups with others who are experiencing similar losses.


Express your feelings.

Tell others how you are feeling; it will help you to work through the grieving process.


Take care of your health.

Maintain regular contact with your family physician and be sure to eat well and get plenty of rest. Be aware of the danger of developing a dependence on medication or alcohol to deal with your grief.


Accept that life is for the living.

It takes effort to begin to live again in the present and not dwell on the past.


Postpone major life changes.

Try to hold off on making any major changes, such as moving, remarrying, changing jobs or having another child. You should give yourself time to adjust to your loss.


Be patient.

It can take months or even years to absorb a major loss and accept your changed life.


Seek outside help when necessary.

If your grief seems like it is too much to bear, seek professional assistance to help work through your grief. It's a sign of strength, not weakness, to seek help.


Remember that the process of grieving is a necessary part of healing and remaining a healthy, happy person. For us parents and teachers, we have the responsibility to constantly be aware of how are children are feeling and acting. Although they may not vocalize feeling a sense of "grief," we can be vigilant in noticing the outward signs in our children.

Take care of yourself. Recognize and accept that you are human and that you may experience all the emotions any human can feel, including those associated with grieving. The process of grieving is healthy, and dealing with it will help not only you but also your students and children.