For Teachers And Educational Professionals
Are you assisting a student or a family who:
- knows someone in an end-of-life situation?
- is living with someone who is dying?
- has experienced the death of a loved one?
Make a referral to Hospice Waterloo Region – we can help!
Here are some links to assist you in supporting a student dealing with anticipatory grief or bereavement:
Why contact Hospice Waterloo Region
Anticipatory loss and bereavement have a profound impact on the learning, development, and emotional adjustment of children and youth. These often lead to struggles with academic performance, social relationships and behaviour at school.
Current research asserts that:
- 1 in 20 students will lose a parent by the time he or she graduates from high school
- 18 out of 20 will experience the death of a sibling, grandparent or someone close to them by the end of high school
- 7 out of 10 teachers have a student currently in their classroom who is grieving
- Intervention strategies that build on the developmental strengths and resiliencies of students are essential in situations where risk signs emerge in the bereaved
Let’s Connect. We can help.
Indicators that help is needed
A growing number of children and youth must find their way as they cope with deaths of cared-about persons. Normal grief is not a mental disorder or a pathology. Normal grief usually includes some common emotional reactions. Most bereaved students experience painful and often very distressing emotional, physical, and social reactions; however, researchers agree that most bereaved students (80%) adapt over time, typically within the first 6 months to 2 years.
Sometimes the effects of coping are demonstrated in behaviors that require the need for supportive interventions. Have you noticed any of these behaviours in a child or teen?
- Disturbance in sleep and eating patterns
- Loss of interest in daily activities
- Risk-taking behavior
- Self-destructive behavior (cutting, suicidal thoughts)
- Not feeling well (stomach aches)
- Regression to earlier behaviors (bed wetting, thumb sucking)
- Loneliness or depression
- Self-blame or guilt
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Withdrawal from friends, hobbies, school activities
- Significant drop in school performance
These are signs that the loss is challenging the child or teen in a manner that professional intervention will lead to a more positive outcome.
What schools can do
The unique role schools can play in supporting grieving students is powerful. Schools can serve as a place of stability for students experiencing bereavement. However, many school professionals feel unprepared and apprehensive about reaching out to provide support to grieving students. They worry that they will say or do something clumsy or wrong, make matters worse or start a conversation they won’t know how to finish. Research suggests that to ‘not say anything’ is ‘saying something’ to children and youth.
- 67% of classroom educators report that they have received no formal training in understanding and responding to grieving students
Students often report that their friends and the adults around them don’t understand what they are going through and say and do things that are not helpful. It is not uncommon for teachers to pressure students to perform at the same level as before the death, without acknowledging the toll grief takes on the ability to concentrate and complete tasks.
Tips for educators
Educators are role models who influence their students. When a student is dealing with an end-of-life situation, or is grieving the death of a loved one, the needs of that student can be overwhelming. Here are some suggestions on how you can support your students during this challenging time:
- Acknowledge your own feelings about dying and death so that you can be emotionally available to help your students.
- Take care of yourself by getting the help you need. Talk with other professionals about how they deal with children/teens in crisis and develop a plan.
When a child/teen knows someone who is dying or is grieving the death of a loved one:
- Talk to the parent(s) and the child/teen to ask how you can help.
- Provide a safe place for students to discuss their feelings about their situation.
- Acknowledge the end-of-life situation or death. The worst thing you can do is say nothing.
- Tell the child/teen, early and often, that you are available to listen and to talk.
- Avoid confusing euphemisms such as “passed away”. Children have no language or model for grieving until adults provide them. The words educators use and the feelings expressed will shape students’ concept of loss and recovery for the rest of their lives.
- Use this challenging situation to teach the concept of community. Students will observe and remember how adults care for each other during difficult times.
- Listen carefully and answer questions simply and honestly, keeping in mind the developmental stage of the student(s). Don’t confuse them with answers to questions they haven’t asked.
- Don’t impose your philosophy of dying and death on the child/teen. Values, traditions and religious beliefs are as diverse as your students.
- Be prepared to set limits. Children/teens may become agitated when boundaries disappear in times of crisis. Keep daily routines. A firm and consistent hand is a comforting one and can be a sign of normalcy in a student’s off-balanced life.
- Address attachment anxieties. Young children may fear being left on the playground and may need to walk with someone. Older students may benefit from helping with tasks that validate them and engage them with others.
- Peer activities are important for older children/teens. Help classmates brainstorm what they can do to help their friend. E.g.: collect assignments, run errands, or tutor. Teach them the gift of listening.
When a Child/Teen is Seriously Ill
- Keep in contact. With the parents’ permission, make regular phone calls to the home or hospital to signify “you’re still part of the group”.
- With your classroom, make a plan to continue calls, notes and other age-appropriate gestures of support. This helps the ill child/teen to feel connected.
- With permission, get more information about the illness and arrange for someone to speak to the class (hospitals, societies and hospices have counselors who can provide this service to schools).
- Classmates may feel vulnerable, and they need accurate and honest answers.
When a Child/Teen Dies
- Classmates and friends will grieve in different ways, depending on their closeness to the student who died. Be aware that there will be a spectrum of reactions.
Send letters to all parents informing them of the death and letting them know what the school will be doing and whom to call for additional help.
- With professional support, call a class meeting and invite classmates to talk about their feelings, and respond respectfully to each one.
- Be prepared to supply facts and details. What children/teens imagine is often times more troubling than reality.
- Bring in help if you need it. Your school Social Workers are your primary source of support. Hospice
- Waterloo Region offers grief support, professional advice, resources and counselors.
Inform students of funeral and memorial arrangements that they can attend with their parents or trusted adults.
- Ask students how they want to commemorate their friend in a concrete way. E.g.: plant a tree, create a memorial book or bulletin board, collect money for a charitable donation, write notes or draw pictures for the grieving family.
- Revisit these memorials throughout the year. It takes time for children/teens to talk about their feelings.
Resources for educators
Currently there are many websites which provide helpful information to educators and adults supporting students. Some of the most helpful are listed below:
American Hospice Foundation (US)
Grief at School: A Guide for School Personnel
Description: This helpful resource supports school personnel in understanding children’s grief across developmental stages and offers concrete suggestions for helping a child who is grieving. It is printable in pdf format.
BC Children’s Hospital (CND)
Grief and Loss Pamphlets
Description: BC Children`s Hospital has created an extensive series of pamphlets for supporting teens and children about grief and loss and those working with them.
The Dougy Center: The National Center for Grieving Children (US)
Description: This helpful website provides online information and activities for educators to support children and their families who are grieving a death.
Hamilton Health Sciences: McMaster Children`s Hospital (CND)
How can I help my children with their grief?
Description: This twelve page pdf is sympathetic to the situation parents and all adults face in helping children, adolescents and teens deal with death. There are helpful tips on the right language to use and information on children’s developmental stages in relation to bereavement in order to respond with care and understanding.
Mount Sinai Hospital: Temmy Latner Centre for Palliative Care (CDN)
Dr. Jay Children’s Grief Program resources supporting grieving students in schools
Description: Brief user friendly monographs are posted as tools for school professionals to support grieving students. These document are written in lay terms and are listed by topic.
National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement: Coalition to Support Grieving Students (US)
Grieving Students (modules for school personnel)
Description: An extremely comprehensive site. Strategies for having conversations, tips for ‘what not to say’ and how to encourage peer support, age appropriate developmental and culturally sensitive considerations are provided. Through this resource educators can access practical information such advice for funeral attendance, how to support students suffering secondary and cumulative losses, and strategies for supporting a student’s transition back into a school setting after a loss. Educators are provided with insight into the important role social media plays in bereavement with students in our digital age. This valuable resource can prepare staff for the impact of grief on learning, the experience of guilt, embarrassment or shame students may experience, and the complexity of grief triggers in a classroom setting.
Our programs and services
Waterloo Region Hospice professional staff can assist schools and system professionals to deliver bereavement support. We can provide consultation on a needs basis to school staff as well as offer students’ access to our bereavement support groups or individual counseling.
Because we recognize the challenges that children and teens and their families face when living with someone with a life-threatening illness or when they have experienced the loss of a loved one, we offer a safe and warm environment for children and teens and their families to explore their feelings surrounding serious illness and grief.
All of our programs and services are offered free of charge.
Professional Individual/Family Counseling: (before and after an expected death)
Our professional counselors offer counseling services to children/teens and their families who are affected by a life-threatening illness or who have experienced the death of a loved one.
Kids Can Cope Workshops: (before an expected death)
We offer monthly interactive workshops for children/teens and their family members who are living with someone who has a life-threatening illness. Group discussions and activities involving expressive art therapy, provide children and families with coping tools to help reduce stress and encourage conversation.
Children/Teen Bereavement Support Group: (after a death)
We offer a safe and creative environment for children aged 4-18, to explore their feelings around loss and provide an opportunity to connect with other children/teens who are dealing with similar losses. Participants are divided in groups by age, and qualified therapists and specially trained volunteers help them discover positive coping mechanisms.
Friends & Relatives Support Group
We offer a professionally facilitated support group for caregivers and friends to share experiences and learn coping skills that help them to provide quality care while maintaining a sense of well-being.
Parenting Through Grief Support Group
Offered in conjunction with the Children’s Bereavement Support Group (ages 5 – 13), this support program addresses topics related to personal grief, parenting through loss, and helping children cope with their grief.
Hospice has an extensive lending library of books (including a large selection of children’s books) on topics relating to coping with serious illness, death and bereavement. Books can be borrowed for a three-week period. A listing of the library collection can be accessed through the Hospice website.
How to contact us
If you are aware that a student or family is dealing with an end-of-life situation or has experienced a loss and would benefit from additional support, you may make a referral to Hospice Waterloo Region.
In a school setting:
- Report the information to your school administrator
- The school administrator or a delegate can contact the parent to confirm the information and can facilitate a referral to Hospice Waterloo Region
If you are working with a parent:
- Provide the parent/guardian with information on how to initiate a self-referral to Hospice Waterloo Region OR
- Support the parent with the referral process OR
- With the support of your administrator, contact the school Social Worker and ask them to become engaged in the situation to facilitate and support the parent with a referral to Hospice Waterloo Region.
AT HOSPICE WATERLOO REGION we can be reached by:
- Phone 519-743-4114
- Fax 519-743-7021
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Using our Child and Youth Referral Form posted on this website
Hospice of Waterloo Region – We Can Help!
- We offer weekly Bereavement Walking Groups for the bereaved in Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge.
- Our MSW’s offer 1:1 counselling for those who are supporting someone approaching end of life or have experienced the death of a loved one in the last 2 years.
- We can refer the bereaved to traditional bereavement support groups or professional counseling agencies if they require additional support.
Call Us Today At 519.743.4114