As summer winds down, many families are preparing for the annual pilgrimage that is “Back to School” time. Some children and teens are excited for the new school year, some are nervous, and some are just unhappy to see their days of sleeping late come to an end. Regardless of where your kids fall on this spectrum, there are some additional things to take into consideration if they have had a loss.
Many physicians, counselors, and friends will encourage a parent or guardian to speak with school personnel immediately following a death in the family. Taking time to do so can help teachers and administrators to understand the challenges your child may be facing upon their return to school, and help them to know when to reach out to the family. Teachers who are aware of a loss are more likely to be sensitive to a student’s feelings around particular holidays, such as Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, and help to present alternate activities when needed.
But what if the loss was not recent? What if the loss occurred 4, 5, even 10 years ago? Children and teens continue to move through their own grief with each passing year. Something a parent or guardian can do to support this process is to meet with teachers and school administrators before the beginning of each school year. We may assume that the information about a child’s loss will be shared with new teachers, but this is often not the case. A new school year is hectic for teachers, just as it is for families, and all too often, this important information can be lost in the shuffle. As class sizes grow, school districts change, and new teachers are hired, it is important for each parent or guardian to act as an advocate for their child.
As each year passes, children and teens will develop new understandings of their loss, and new realizations of how it impacts them. A child taking their first algebra class may feel pangs of regret that they never took up Dad’s offer to coach them on their math skills. A teen entering high school may realize for the first time that their big sister will not be there on the first day to help them find their locker. Things that cause mild anxiety for some students may manifest as huge stressors for a child or teen who has suffered a loss. Making teachers and administrators aware of these losses can go a long way in making sure these grieving students are supported during their school year.
If it isn’t possible to meet personally with your child or teen’s teachers, it can still be beneficial to share this information through a simple email or a letter. Even sharing the basics, such as who died, when the loss happened, and how your child or teen does/does not like to discuss it can be valuable information to a teacher. No matter how you share the information, it will offer an opportunity for teachers to better understand your child, and to be mindful of the loss during the school year.
Most teachers and school administrators would prefer to know about any special challenges a student has, and grief can certainly be counted as such. Taking the time to be an advocate for your child or teen can help to set them up for a successful school year, every school year.