4 Important Ways to Help a Grieving Student
A guest post by Meghan Belnap
As a teacher, watching over the mental and emotional health of your students can be difficult. Students who face tragedy are often in need of comfort and extra support, but it can often feel as if your options are limited in regards to how to help. 20 percent of all kids will grow up experiencing the death of someone close to them by adulthood. Even though helping a student through grief is the primary responsibility of parents, rather than teachers, students will look to their teachers as authority figures for guidance and sympathy. Here are just four big ways that you, as a teacher, can help your students through a painful loss.
Making sure basic needs are met
When children, teens, and young adults experience grief, they can often become withdrawn and lethargic, lacking the energy or even motivation to meet many of their basic needs. Eating, especially, can be hard for them to make a priority, as anxiety caused by grief can constrict the stomach and make food unappealing. One way you can check up on these students is to talk to the cafeteria staff to see if the student is getting lunch. Consider keeping some light, easily digestible snacks in your desk to offer them before or after class if you find they are neglecting to eat at lunchtime, and be aware of any extreme weight loss that may necessitate action from the parents.
Consult with Parents and Guardians
Being able to openly discuss their feelings is a major part of the grieving process, but children and teens can feel worried about bringing up depressing or uncomfortable topics. Make sure that the student knows your office hours when they can come and talk to you if they need a compassionate ear, and make sure they are aware of the services offered by your school counselor. If you notice them feeling overwhelmed during class, discretely allow them to step outside or to the school counselor immediately. It can also be greatly beneficial to consult with the parents to get their perspective on how their child is handling the loss and what can be done to help them. Whether it is the passing of another student or a family member, each child deals with death a little differently and may need unique accommodations.
Giving parents counseling information
When a student is grieving the death of a loved one, their parents are often going through a similar process and may not be aware of the resources they have for their child’s grieving. Giving parents phone numbers, addresses, and pamphlets for local psychiatrists and counselors can help ease the burden on the family and provide the student with professional guidance. Grief counseling for young adults has become more widely available as rates of suicide in teens has increased. Services like these can help a grieving student find comfort, educate parents on healthy coping mechanisms and emotional outlets, and even detect signs of depression and anxiety that the student may be repressing.
Homework extensions and test makeups
Another way teachers can help grieving students is to provide alternative assignments. While their formal education is important, it can often take a back seat when the student is overwhelmed from the grieving process, and the last thing they need is for that grief to create further stressors through falling grades. Extended deadlines, make-up days, and a pass on quizzes can help a teen keep up with the workload and maintain decent grades. A little leniency, particularly early in the grieving process, will relieve stress from the student and make them aware that the authority figures in their lives make their mental and emotional wellbeing a priority.
As a teacher, there are limited options for how you can get involved in the personal lives of your students. This does not mean that there is nothing to be done, however. The simple act of directing a student to professional aid and showing a little extra compassion can go a long way in ensuring that the student is able to make their way through the grieving process in a healthy manner. Whether they want to admit it or not, students of all ages are greatly affected by their teachers, and they will appreciate even the little gestures of compassion you show.
I am, once again, partnering with Angela Watson to help promote her 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club. It’s an online professional development program that has already helped more than 32,000 teachers take control of their time and stay focused on what matters most. The next cohort is starting this summer, and the Club has been updated to cover emerging best practices for the changes ahead. Click here to receive a reminder email to sign up for Early Bird Access on June 8.