Help Grieving Students Over the Holidays

Grief doesn’t take a holiday. It often worsens as families celebrate traditions in the wake of a loss. Here’s how educators can help students at school.
October 2018, Volume 42, Issue 2

When children experience the death of a family member or close friend, school staff can play a unique and important role for them and their families, especially as we lead up to fall and winter holidays. These are times when a loss can be magnified for children because someone close to them might be missing from their annual traditions. Here’s how school staff can help at holidays—and year-round.

  • Schools are familiar and school staff are trusted. The ongoing communication between schools and families often allows teachers to be trusted partners from the outset.
  • Families are usually looking for guidance. Bereavement is challenging for every family, and most parents and guardians struggle with what to say and do. They welcome suggestions from someone who knows and cares about their child.
  • School staff may have knowledge other providers do not have. School staff spend much more time with children than many other providers. They will have more opportunities to observe how children are coping socially, emotionally and academically.
  • The behavior school staff observe at school might not be the same as that exhibited at home. Sometimes children express frustration or sadness at school but cover these feelings up at home to protect their parents.
  • School staff can suggest resources for the family. School staff can alert the family about community bereavement or mental health services that families may not be aware of.

The Coalition to Support Grieving Students, of which NAESP is a member, offers more information and guidance about communicating with bereaved families. Materials are designed specifically for school professionals.

Copyright © 2018. National Association of Elementary School Principals. No part of the articles in NAESP magazines, newsletters, or website may be reproduced in any medium without the permission of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. For more information, view NAESP’s reprint policy.

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