For Children, Death Takes Away More Than a Loved One

November 2015, Volume 39, Issue 3

When children lose a parent or other close family member, they mourn that person. Most school professionals understand and expect this.

However, there are additional losses related to the death that can affect children deeply. These are often less familiar to families and school professionals alike.

The death is considered a primary loss. Events and changes that occur as the result of the death are considered secondary losses.

Common secondary losses include:

  • Changed relationships. Children may no longer see people who were friends and associates of the deceased. Some of these relationships may seem incidental to adults, but they can be quite significant to children.
  • Change in school. If a family must move after a death, children may lose touch with old friends while having to adjust to a new school environment.
  • Change in lifestyle. If a family faces financial challenges after a death, they may move to a smaller home. There may be less money to support participation in extracurricular activities. Reduced family resources circumstances may lead to loss of status for children among their peers.
  • A parent who is less available. A surviving parent may have to work more and have less time to spend with children. A parent struggling with depression may not be emotionally available.
  • Change in future plans. If a parent or provider has died, teens may not be able to follow through on plans for college or career training. They may face financial challenges or feel an obligation to keep the family together rather than move away.

When school personnel are aware of these types of loss, they are better able to provide helpful support to students. Appreciating and recognizing the range of losses a student might experience is a good first step. Ask specifically about these issues, or use what you already know about a student to offer support.

Learn more about secondary loss and ways to offer support at the website of the Coalition to Support Grieving Students. Our organization is a member of the Coalition.

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