Sunday, June 9, 2013

When classmates are told about death

o   I thought I'd share some of the things we have found helpful through the crisis we have dealt with this year as well as prior experience. It is important to establish one point of contact between school and family.  It is necessary to get the family's approval for everything the school wishes to do. The point of contact finds out on which days the child who has lost a family member will be in and out of school.  Teachers (and even front office staff) may need support depending on how close they were to the person who died or the children experiencing the loss. In most incidents all staff in a school should be informed at a brief emergency staff meeting because children may talk about the loss on the bus, etc. and teachers need to know the basic facts.  The counselor(s) (and others as deemed appropriate to specific incident) conduct a class meeting with the teacher participating  to tell students what the family has agreed can be shared.  The purpose of this meeting is to make sure everyone has the same information, has a chance to ask questions, and express their own feelings. With children it is important to let them know this is not time to share about their own experience with loss but someone would be available to talk to them privately later if they needed to talk.  The loss of a parent or sibling is very scary for the other children in the class but generally some will already know and it is important to stop rumors.  We try to contain sharing information to the child who has lost a family member's homeroom class, but sometimes for older students who share classes or everyone knows them so well all classes in a grade need a meeting.  As a general guideline, children are urged to be kind, quiet, caring friends. This is really about how to treat the survivor how you acted before the death.  Be nice, don't grab the child and hug him/her, don't ask questions but listen if the child wants to talk, show compassion in small ways by explaining what was missed, etc.  Our school chooses not to advise parents if children should attend memorial services, that is a family decision.  Generally the teacher, counselor, and administrator go to services conducted locally and we tell the class we are representing them.  Making a card, if they choose, is a way for the classmates to express sympathy. With family permission, classmates are offered the opportunity to make cards for a caring basket.  If time permits can do both sympathy and return to school letters. Keep in mind that sympathy cards can be very tough for very young students so it may be better to do "we miss you" cards.  Teacher screens cards for appropriateness and asks pupil services staff if not sure. Depending on the child we often include a stuffed animal or some other activity the greiving child may enjoy doing (i.e., book on topic child enjoys). If family approves, the administrator sends a letter home telling the parents of the class about the loss, what was said in the class meeting (kind, quiet, caring), and to contact a pupil services staff member with questions or if their own child needs support.

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