When a child in your class is bereaved, school is often a place of comfort with its familiar environment and routines. It’s important for the school and family to manage a child’s return, thereby ensuring that the pupil settles back in with the least amount of anxiety and stress.

Here are some tips to help a bereaved child in your class:

Keep informed

Before a child returns to school, try to speak to the family so that you’re aware of the cause of death and what the child has been told about it.

Speak to the child when they come back

When the child returns to school, acknowledge the death and ask them what they want.  Do they want everyone, no-one or just their close friends to know? What sort of support do they feel they need?  With a younger child, you may need to have this conversation with the child and their carer.

Organise ‘time out’: Agree a way for the child to indicate to you that they need some time to themselves or are feeling upset. It could be a card they put on the table so that they don’t have to say anything.  Give the child options of places to go if they’re upset and need time out and speak to them about who will accompany them.

Prepare ‘time out’ activities

Some children find doing an activity helpful when they are feeling upset or overwhelmed.  You could organise activities for them, such as threading, colouring, writing a journal or drawing.

Manage lunchtimes:  Ask the child with whom they would like to have lunch. They may prefer to have lunch alone or with a teacher at first, but encourage them to have some social interaction. Give the child choices but try to avoid them becoming isolated in their grief.

Check in regularly

Have regular check-ins with the child to make sure that they are OK.  

You might ask: ‘Is everything OK?’ and ‘Do you need anything different?’ rather than directly asking them how they feel.

Ask who their friends are: Find out whom they see as their friends and whom they trust. Ask the friends to be supportive and understanding if the child is sad or upset.

Don’t expect too much

Let the child ease back into schoolwork and don’t expect too much from them in terms of homework.  Liaise with the child’s carers about setting short-term, achievable targets. Talk to them about what they enjoy doing and give them opportunities to do these things. They need to know that it’s okay to have fun and that it doesn’t mean that they are no longer sad, just because they are enjoying themselves.

If you are concerned about a bereaved pupil or just need some guidance or information, call our helpline on 0800 02 888 40.