Ways to Support Grieving Students During a Pandemic

Coping with grief is always a challenge, but there are strategies principals can use to help students.

Topics: Pandemic Leadership, Mental Health and Safety

We’re experiencing unparalleled times during the COVID-19 pandemic, which alone is an adjustment for children and adults alike. Add into that dealing with the loss of a loved one or important person like a teacher, and it becomes an exponentially more difficult state of grief for everyone affected.

Supporting grieving students—no matter the cause of grief—can be difficult in the best of times. So how can principals and their teachers help support students when it’s not the best of times? The Coalition to Support Grieving Students offers insight, tips, and resources to help your students and staff with specific scenarios of grief.

Virtual Support

Given that most support to parents and other family members of grieving students is usually not provided by school professionals in person, the module Connecting with Families provides some advice on how to provide remote support.

Many children’s bereavement programs across the country are quickly adapting to the pandemic by providing virtual groups and/or individual support. Contact the organizations in your area to see how they can assist. Check the National Bereavement Resource Guide: State by State Bereavement Listing complied by New York Life and eluna for a list of bereavement organizations in your state to identify local support for bereaved children and their families.

Grieving Students

The death of a student or school staff member can have a profound effect on the entire school community, with virtually everyone impacted to some degree. The module on Death and School Crisis covers unique considerations to consider when this occurs.

Children may experience more than one personal loss; deaths of students and staff may impact the entire school community. Download After a Loved One Dies and email it to family members to provide guidance on how to support grieving children.

The module Secondary and Cumulative Losses addresses issues to consider when children experience multiple losses.

Additional Losses

Some children’s grief may not be related to a loss due to death. For some children who don’t experience the death of someone they know, they may still have to cope with separation from loved ones (such as due to hospitalization, quarantine, travel restrictions, or the inability to visit older relatives or friends). They may also grieve their inability to celebrate their graduation, birthday, or special holidays. The guidance document Ambiguous Loss addresses this topic.

Transitions, such as from elementary to the middle-level, may be particularly challenging during a pandemic. The module Coordinating Services and Supporting Transitions discusses how to support grieving students as they transition to new grades or schools.

As schools transition rapidly to on-line learning in the context of an evolving pandemic, many children may find it hard to focus and are experiencing academic challenges. The modules Impact on Learning and Grief Triggers offer important insights and recommendations that are relevant for all students during a pandemic— whether or not they are grieving.

This is an unprecedented time, but there are practical steps school professionals can take to support grieving students, even during a pandemic.

*This article was adapted from “Supporting grieving students during a pandemic.”