Grief and Loss

Grieving can be a difficult experience for families.  Below are some tips to help you through this difficult time.  If you would like to speak more about your child’s grief please feel free to contact Bonnie Slater:

1. Help Younger Students Understand What Has Happened

When speaking with young children about the death of a loved one, use the words "dead" and "died." Expressions such as "eternal rest" or "passed away" may confuse children and make it harder for them to understand what has happened. Reinforcing the basic realities of death -- that it is irreversible, that everyone eventually dies, and that there are physical reasons why someone dies -- helps remove common misconceptions and can decrease feelings of worry, guilt and shame that might accompany the death of a loved one.

2. Invite Older Students to Talk

In the wake of an immediate family member's death, older children can be overlooked -- or even looked to for supporting other family members. School, then, becomes a critical place for them to receive care from trusted adults. Older students may not be ready to talk when you offer to speak with them. They may prefer time alone or talking with their friends. They might say that they don't need or wish to talk, even when they are actually feeling overwhelmed. Don't try to force the conversation. Help them identify other adults with whom they can speak when they are ready, such as a guidance counselor or mental health provider. Remain available and supportive, and continue offering to talk with them from time to time.

3. Allow Children to Express Themselves

The goal is not to take away the pain of grief, but to allow an opportunity for children to express it. Avoid comments aimed at trying to cheer up students who are grieving. (Examples: "At least you were able to spend Christmas with him before he died," or "At least he died a hero.") It is also a common impulse to share personal experiences about our own losses. But with grieving children, it's important to listen more and talk less. Give them space to express themselves rather than "turning the tables" by bringing up your own painful losses. You can also reassure students -- young children, in particular -- that they are not responsible for the death. Even when there is no reason to suspect they feel guilty, feelings of guilt are nearly universal in grieving children.

This blog was co-authored by David Schonfeld, MD, FAAP, director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement.


Here are some great things to remember when you are dealing with grief as a family.

In Times of Grief and Loss: A Family Manifesto

If you need space to be quiet and alone, I will honor your needs.

If you want to be close, I will make every effort to relate in a loving and receptive way.

Talking about our loved one, sharing memories and pondering the "why's" of our loss are necessary parts of grieving.

When you want to talk, I will do my best to listen without judgement of your thoughts and feelings. We don't need to hide our sorrow or find places to cry alone.

When tears come, you are invited to let them flow. I will try to do the same.

We will never take for granted that we are doing well just because we aren't talking about our loss. Let us agree to regularly check with each other, discussing ways to be more supportive and nurturing. During the first year and perhaps beyond, we will make a point to celebrate the memory of our loved one on holidays and anniversaries.

We'll expect to feel a greater depth of sadness on these days and we'll try to plan meaningful activities together.

Sometimes our sorrow will affect our family relationships in surprising or unpleasant ways. When this occurs, we will try our best to explore our feelings, making every effort to resolve them together. Some of our family members will adjust to our loss sooner than others and that is okay.

We understand that no one of us can meet all of another person's needs, especially during this difficult time of grief. It is alright if we turn to people outside our family for help and support.

If one of us is "touchy", moody or says something we don't mean, we will try to remember that we have all been deeply injured in different ways.

We realize that pain lingers even when it is not discussed.

We understand that the world too soon forgets about our loss and acts as if nothing ever happened. For this reason, our family will support each other over the long haul.

We will not assume that any of us is either too young or too old to grieve.

Trying to be "strong" for others often postpones grief and the rebuilding process.

I do not expect you to be strong for me. Rather, I will take responsibility for my own healing. 

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Please remember that people grieve in many different ways and that all behaviors are OKAY.  Many children look to their parents and caregivers for how to react to death. As a parent and caregiver it is okay to talk to your child about your own grief (“I am really sad too”, “I am crying because I miss … too”, “right now I am shocked and don’t really know how I feel”).   It is important to say that everyone reacts differently to death and to acknowledge your own feelings about your grief.  Let the children know that you are there for them if they want to talk and that whatever they are feeling is OKAY and all emotions (crying, laughing, sadness, fear, etc) are okay and very normal.  Please remember to be there for your child and know that grief comes in waves and that it can hit them at any time (tomorrow, next week, a year from now, etc).


The attachments below can also be helpful:


Bonnie Slater,
Aug 18, 2016, 2:31 PM
Bonnie Slater,
Aug 18, 2016, 2:31 PM
Bonnie Slater,
Aug 18, 2016, 2:32 PM