There may be feelings of excitement to reunite with friends and share stories about the summer months mixed with feelings of worry about the upcoming academic challenges and sadness that the summer is over. When a child or teen has experienced the death of a loved one, the thought of going back to school may take on an entirely new meaning. Most children have a strong desire to belong or “fit in” with their peers and experiencing a loss can make them feel very different. There are a number of things that parents can to do help meet their children’s needs to feel safe, secure, cared for and give them a sense of stability.
1. Practice a consistent and predictable routine.
Following a loss, your family is likely going through some very significant and difficult changes. The transition back to school is an additional change that children need to adjust to. This transition can be made easier by creating a schedule that includes a bedtime routine, planning and discussing day-to-day activities and preparing tasks (chores, making lunch, how they will be getting to school and back). Having a predictable routine can reduce anxiety and can help give children a sense of normalcy.
2. Include the school as part of your support network.
As soon as it is possible, share the death or loss your family has experienced with their teachers or school counsellors and any concerns you may have related to how your child is responding to this loss. You may want to schedule an appointment to discuss this in person. Talk with your child about what they wish to share with friends or classmates. Oftentimes children are tempted to keep their loss a secret as a means to not stand out or be perceived as “different”, however this can eliminate opportunities for friends or classmates to be supportive. Encourage your child to talk about their grief with people they trust.
3. Understand the impact that grief can have on children.
Grief impacts multiple areas of functioning including social, emotional, cognitive, spiritual, and physical. There is no set timeline for the grieving process. Grief is as unique as the person experiencing it and there can be many ups and downs. It is not uncommon for children’s academic performance to be impacted due to decreased concentration and focus. Make sure that your child knows that these changes are only temporary. Informing the school of the loss can also help them to understand what your child is going through and offer additional supports.
4. Make a plan for school should they feel overwhelmed.
Have a discussion including your child and their school about what can be done if they are distressed. Having a “point person” or a safe place for your child to go to when they are in need of support can be helpful. Make sure that the school has your correct contact information in the event that they need to reach you. Discuss with your school any signs or signals that your child is struggling as well as coping strategies that are helpful for your child. Keep communication open. Let the school know if your child has had a difficult evening or morning and encourage them to let you know if they have any concerns that arise during the school day.
5. Take care of yourself.
Remember that you are also experiencing your own grief. Having your child return to school is also an adjustment for you. One of the biggest ways you can help your child adjust to going back to school is by modeling how to express and cope with change and loss. Making sure that you are being patient with yourself and are engaging supports is a big part of this.
Sage Centre Child & Family Grief Counselling
In a compassionate environment, Hospice Calgary embraces children, teens and adults coping with a life-threatening illness, sudden or expected death. Our specialists provide individual counselling, group support, workshops and 24-hour-end-of-life care. Appointments may be scheduled in the home, school, hospice or at our sites. If your child is struggling with the loss of someone close to them call us, we can help.
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