Guidelines for Teachers and School Counselors
Know what signs to look for when helping a grieving student
Counseling children in grief is not part of the training most teachers and school counselors receive. Parents whose children are grieving the death of a loved one could be helpful to their children's teachers and counselors by passing on these suggestions from Helen Fitzgerald, a grief therapist who has worked with bereaved children for over two decades.
- Learn about /explore your own feelings about grief and loss. Understand why you react as you do when that topic comes up.
- Educate yourself about the process of grief.
- Use the correct language. If it is a death loss, say the word "dead" or "died."
- Avoid using euphemisms or clichés, such as: .when you lost him" or "It's part of God's plan."
- If possible, set aside regular times for the student to come in and talk.
- Listening is so important. It isn't necessary to talk or come up with answers. Silence really can be golden!
- If you can't answer a particular question, it's OK to say so. Sometimes the best response is something like: "I don't know how to answer that, but perhaps we can find someone to help us." Or you might say, "That's a really good question; let me think about it, and I'll get back to you."
- Accept and encourage the expression of feelings. Help the student identify feelings, and teach good coping techniques.
- Be objective and accepting as the student shares thoughts and feelings with you.
- If you and the student are comfortable, it's appropriate to reach out and touch him/her on the arm or some other "safe" place as you talk.
- Encourage the student to read and educate himself on the process of grief.
- Be patient; the work of grief takes time.
- Help the student find available resources. Perhaps start a grief group in your school.
- Invite the student to come back at any time that you are available to her.
- Watch for signals that warn of complications:
- Grades dropping for more than two weeks
- Withdrawal from school activities and/or friends
- Spontaneous crying
- Use of drugs or alcohol
- Little or total lack of emotion regarding the loss
- Hyperactive without a sense of the loss
- Prolonged inability to acknowledge the loss that has happened
- Extreme reactions to the grief that seem to be lasting too long
- Change in health
- Prolonged depression
- Talking or writing about dying
- If a counselor notices any of these signs in a child, he or she should contact a parent with any concerns he or she has
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