Reminding Teachers About a Loss

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.

Photo Credit.

6 Comments:

  1. Connie maasry said on August 31, 2011 at 1:10 am ... #

    As a mother of two and I also work in the school system PLEASE let ALL teachers know. At the beginning of each school year for the last 8 years I let the teachers who work with my children know their father died and give them a little
    History. You never know what they may be covering in class and a feeling or memory starts to service …… The teacher will have a better understanding!! I also let them know please keep me informed & they are never bothering me. Me losing my husband made me a much better teacher meaning I make sure every student matters and we don’t know what that student left from before entering our class. So SAY good morning!!! I was there with my son a few years ago and I hoped please let a teacher be kind to him today .

  2. Joyce said on September 1, 2011 at 3:27 pm ... #

    Connie so appreciate your advice. I lost my husband in December 2010. My daughter is a rock and found/finds comfort in the constant chatter and interactions with friends, teachers and counslers. My son deals with it much more quietly. He and I are very close and he is very sensitive. We talk constantly ab Dad and how memories and emotions surface regularly.
    I hadn’t considered it but your advice to inform all of his NEW teachers this year of Zach’s loss LAST year will help put my mind at ease and will help his teachers to better help Zach. Occasionally during a class or two last year, something would trigger a special feeling or memory and Zach would ask to be excused. The teachers all knew the situation and went above and beyond to help.

  3. Imagen said on September 2, 2011 at 11:01 am ... #

    This is such great advice. We lost our younger daughter in the spring of my older daughter’s 7th grade year – it was sudden and unexpected and really rocked our community – the school system activated their counseling teams for both my living daughter and my deceased daughter’s classmates. I assumed as she started 8th grade in the very same school that all of her teachers would know about the loss. I was STUNNED when I went to back to school night and it became very clear that many of her teachers did not know about the loss that occurred just a few months before.

    I did send all of her teachers emails after that night explaining the situation. I also asked them to keep me aware of anything they might be studying that made bells go off for them that it might be difficult (for example in health class that year they discusses family types and sizes and composition which was obviously very painful for my daughter (am I an only child now?). I also made a point to send the teachers an email at anniversary times so they would know that it might be harder than a regular day.

    As my daughter started high school the following year, she asked that I not share with her teachers right away (she does not like people to treat her differently because of her loss) but I did talk with the counseling staff and she does attend grief counseling weekly in the school.

  4. kerry neuberger said on September 6, 2011 at 1:31 pm ... #

    As a teacher and a mother of sons whose father died in the past year, I agree with letting the teachers know. One thing I had to remind them is that the boys are still struggling through. Some didn’t actually verbalize their thoughts – and these are my colleagues- but their non verbals and things the boys have just mentioned at home make it clear that many teachers have the mind set that Dave died last winter, so the boys should be able to deal with things now. I’ve had to sit several down and make it clear to them that it is something that they will deal with all their lives and that it will hit them at different times.

  5. Tammi D. said on September 22, 2011 at 1:00 pm ... #

    Loss of a grandparent. I would love to see more articles.(grandparents) My youngest is having a difficult time, as I am with the lost of his grandmother, my mother.

    Thank you,

  6. joanne ring said on September 29, 2011 at 12:54 pm ... #

    Thank you for the above comments…My husband just died suddenly 5 weeks ago. I have 4 boys. My youngest 8 yrs old is having a very hard time getting into school. I think he is afraid to leave me…He had this problem before his dad died but it is definately worse…crying and clinging to me..I live in Boston and have had a hard time trying to find counseling anyway i am still trying…

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