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Bereavement is one of the most difficult experiences we may face and can be devastating – whether it be through the loss of a family member, partner, friend, or pet. Bereavement is accompanied by feelings of grief, which is a process and experience of a range of different emotions as we come to terms with the loss and adjust our lives.  

Bereavement affects different people in different ways and can give rise to a range of different emotions and behaviours. For children and young people in particular, they may sometimes find it difficult to fully articulate how they are feeling, and emotions may be reflected through their behaviours.  

It can sometimes be difficult to know what to do or say to support someone in the school community who is dealing with a bereavement. Schools can provide support by: 

  • Providing a sense of normality – giving routine and security, and in some circumstances a break from an overwhelming atmosphere at home. 
  • Providing access to supportive adults – school may provide an environment where children can express their grief through informal or structured support. 
  • Providing positive experiences – pupils may still want to participate in the activities they usually enjoy and spend time with friends. 
  • Providing quiet spaces – ensure there is a place where pupils can go if they need a quiet place to reflect or take time out of the school day.  
  • Being proactive – including teaching information on death in an age-appropriate way in the curriculum and providing access to different information, resources, and materials. 
  • Showing understanding – try not to tell pupils what they should be doing to feel better or make assumptions based on their behaviour. Be understanding and if in doubt, check-in with the pupil.  
  • Supporting information sharing – it can sometimes be helpful that staff in contact with the pupil are aware of the circumstances so they can understand any changes in the pupil’s behaviour or why they may be quiet or upset, and be aware of how certain lesson topics may affect pupils. Check-in with the pupil and their family that this is okay first.  
  • Allowing lesson ‘passes’ – there may be times where it is appropriate for pupils to be given a pass to not attend a particular lesson where the topic or subject matter may be too sensitive. 
  • Being flexible – many pupils like the continuity and structure of school, but it is important to allow some flexibility around deadlines and homework. 
  • Not avoiding the subject – acknowledge what has happened for the pupil. Where there is a death in the school community, explain what has happened sensitively to minimise the risk of rumours and hearsay. Use clear and correct terminology like ‘death’ and ‘dead’ rather than words such as ‘loss’ or ‘passed away’, particularly with younger children. 
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