by Christi Neville, LPC
As the end of summer approaches, many families are turning their attention to a new school year. For children who have experienced a loss over the summer, returning to school can be filled with anxiety. For children further along in their grief, it may not be quite so raw, but they are still navigating their way through permanent changes in their worlds. No matter when the loss occurred, we can all agree that school-life and home-life are inextricably intertwined, and children cannot simply compartmentalize or limit their experience of loss to home. Considering that our kids can spend up to seven or eight hours a day at school, it is truly a major cornerstone in their world, a place not only for textbook learning, but a place where they learn about life…a place where they share themselves, experience acceptance or rejection, support or isolation. Just as we do our best as caregivers to ensure they have solid support in their home-life, it’s beneficial to proactively plan for support in their school-life.
I consider there to be three essential needs in supporting a child’s return to school, and would like to share these practical tips:
1. Grief education : familiarize yourself with some of the potential ways grief can express itself in the school setting; below are some examples of the many ” faces” of grief:
2. Child’s sense of safety/security
We as caregivers can meet these needs of grieving children with predictable routines, and age-appropriate limit-setting. This helps bereaved children feel a sense of structure and safety; and when we have to follow through with consequences, it’s important to convey to a child that they are loved, despite any misbehavior.
A child’s sense of security is also tied into a sense of normalcy among their peers. Most kids naturally want to feel like they fit in. While it’s important for a loss to be acknowledged, and school staff to be aware, it’s important to give our children some choice in how much they want others to know about their loss. It can be helpful to have this discussion with them prior to talking to school staff, to honor their wishes as much as possible, and to help them find responses they feel comfortable with if others ask them questions.
3. Create a caring environment for your child
It is essential that a bereaved child be made aware of the type of support they can expect when they do return to school. I recommend setting up a meeting with the school counselor and teacher prior to school starting, to let them know of the child’s loss, to make them aware of how much or how little the child wants others to know, to express any concerns, and to coordinate any necessary accommodations or resources for the child. Let your child know that the school counselor is available for them should they feel overwhelmed by their grief or have any problems at school. And lastly, be available to the child as much as possible to listen, and to love, during this time of transition back to school.
Wishing your family a smooth and supportive school year!
Christi Neville, L.P.C.
About the Author
Christi Neville, LPC is The Christi Center’s Kids Who Kare and Peer Support Coordinator:
“My interest in grief and loss began in 1997, when a tragic accident claimed the love of my life, and catapulted me into a humbling journey of healing. An intern counselor at the time, I was astounded to realized our culture’s lack of understanding of grief, and as I committed myself to my own personal growth, my thirst for knowledge led me into professional realms as well. After graduating with my Master’s in Counseling from The University of Denver in 1999, I began a holistic private practice in Colorado devoted exclusively to grief, and from that foundation, have led support groups for children, for surviving family members at Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and have run several hospice bereavement programs. After relocating back to my native Texas, I was lucky enough to find The Christi Center, and am excited to contribute my blend of personal and professional experience as I support the resiliency of the human spirit in the face of loss. Outside of work, I enjoy music, meditation, and spending time outside with my super-duper son, who reminds me daily to stay present to the magic and wonder of life.”