Help Your Grieving Child Adjust Back to School

After a death, the transition back into a routine you were doing before the death may take time and may look different. It is important to give yourself, your child, and your family grace as you adjust to life after death. Give yourself permission to feel and process everything you are feeling day to day so that you can support yourself first and then your child, children, and family. Here are some strategies for helping your child (and yourself) adjust back to school this month.

  • Talk openly with your child(ren) about what you’ll be sharing.

Let your child(ren) know that you will be sharing information with the school counselor, principal, and teacher. Ask if they would like to participate in the conversation and what they are comfortable sharing with staff. If you have a child who is transitioning to a new school, find the adults in the building that they may work with on a regular basis during the year. If your child is returning to the same school, ask who they have a relationship with in the building and work with the school to communicate with this adult to support your child. This may be a previous teacher, office secretary, paraprofessional, or any adult in the building that your child has connected with in a previous year. You can remind your child that this information is being shared to support the child on the transition back to school. The topic may never be discussed at school but is shared so that the student has the support at home as well as at school.

  • Open communication with staff will be key to a successful return.

Communicate with staff on behavior changes that you may have observed and things the staff can look for to support you and your child on the return to school. Allow the school to support you and your child during this transition. Share changes you observe at home with your child’s counselor or point of contact at the school. Be open for the school to communicate with you as needed. Remind your child of the support at school and give them the opportunity to talk to someone when needed. If grief groups are offered in the school setting, seek guidance on enrolling your child at an appropriate time. This will be an opportunity for your child to connect with peers in the school setting and find a connection with other students that have also experienced a death. Be open to the communication shared by school staff and others. If additional counseling is recommended, ask for referrals for one on one or group therapy. This is normal and does not mean your child is broken. 

<<Feel free to use this “Letter to a Teacher” that was created with the help of campers and caregivers at Experience Camps to better explain how they want to be supported.>> 

  •  Use role play to talk to your child about peer relationships.

Once communication with school staff has taken place, talk with your child about conversations with peers and other students in your child’s school. Your child may not want to share information with others or may want to openly share everything. Use role play as a way to practice both scenarios so that your child feels comfortable saying, “I do not want to talk about it,” or your child explaining every detail around the death. As we as adults know, others can be more hurtful than helpful during times of grieving; use this scenario as another role play opportunity or topic of discussion so your child feels prepared when interacting with other students. 

More tips to set yourselves up for success:

  • If you are working with your child on acknowledging the death or sharing about the death, inform the school so that the school staff can support the conversations and be an advocate for you and your child during the day.

  • If your child is already seeing an outside therapist, provide a release so that the school and therapist can communicate with each other to implement similar strategies and supports in the school setting.

  • Talk with your child about coping strategies that help them and could be used during the school day. Create a list or use a journal to write the strategies so that your child has a reminder during the day.

  • Let your child know that feelings are normal, let your child see you processing your feelings so that this is normal and not seen as something bad. You both deserve to feel the emotions from the death and still enjoy life, school, family, friends, and the day. Work together to practice and find strategies that can be used to cope during the day.

Lastly, continue to give yourself grace. Find support that works for you and your family. Ask for support when needed and use the school to support your child and family during this transition time. Different events and milestones may be triggering and communication with the school may be beneficial in supporting your child in the days ahead. 

Alicia Firman completed her MSW at the University of Missouri – Columbia. Alicia has been involved in grief work since 2009 where she started as a camp counselor while completing her degree. She works full-time as a school social worker and teaches fitness classes on the side. Alicia is the Clinical Director for Experience Camps in Georgia. In her free time, she enjoys exploring new places, traveling, and being outside with her new puppy, Jasper.