When Grieving Students Trigger Adults

School communities have been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Topics: Pandemic Leadership, Mental Health and Safety

No one has gone unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic, and school communities have been hit particularly hard. Aside from navigating a new normal with virtual learning, students and teachers alike are grappling with what this means for them, their education, and their families.

With more than 200,000 American lives lost to COVID-19 since March, it’s not unheard of for students to be personally affected. In a time when exposure to people outside their immediate families is limited, students often look to trusted people—like teachers, who are consistently present in their lives—for support. Grief is grief, no matter if the cause is big, like the death of a family member, or smaller, like a sudden change in routine for kids who so heavily rely on a set schedule to feel safe.

Know Your Limit

Educators by nature want to help their students. But at some point, they also have to recognize that taking on too much of their students’ grief can hurt teachers more than it’s helping their students.

The Coalition to Support Grieving Students offers tips for educators who might be triggered by their students’ grief—especially while teachers, too, are experiencing similar stressors in their personal lives—to put the focus back self-care and their own mental health.

  • Find a Support Network: Educators often feel alone among a school of students, but identifying a go-to group of family, friends, and colleagues can offer big benefits when they need to vent.
  • Seek Out a Professional: Sometimes, as good-intentioned as they are, friends, family, and colleagues aren’t able to provide the right kind of support. If resentment, guilt, or personal grief creep in, those are signs you might need the expertise of a mental health provider.
  • Give Yourself a Break: Teachers might feel uncomfortable with being a support system for grieving students because it can lead to feelings of being untrained or unprepared to offer the right kind of support. Remember, a listening ear alone can make students feel a lot better. If it’s too much for you, call in a professional mental health provider like a school counselor.

The Coalition to Support Grieving Students, for which NAESP served as a founding partner, offers additional resources like their Professional Self-Care Guide to help grieving students and educators who work closely with students.