Anonymous asks:

How to talk to a child about her schoolmate's death?

After a prolonged illness, a student at my niece's school died today. This young girl was in the fourth grade, the same grade but a different class than my niece. The community had been praying for her, and there had also been fund raising for her and her family. There is much sadness now.

What should teachers and parents volunteering in the classroom say to children about their schoolmate's death? Does the death of someone their own age affect children more than the death of an adult? How to help the children deal with this sadness and grief?
In Topics: Children and stress, Communicating with my child (The tough talks)
> 60 days ago



Jan 30, 2010
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What the Expert Says:

I am so sorry that your child has had to become involved in the grieving process at such a young age.

Parents and volunteers will be appreciated for acknowledging what the children say to them and giving them some information, too. ("Yes, you will miss NAME very much, as will I because NAME was a very kind person and fun to be with here at school.)  Adults also should not shy away from demonstrating their own grief. ("This is a very awful day and I am feeling very sad.)  But, also to give a positive statement that reflects an outlet for grief, too (I am feeling very sad and maybe I will write in my journal about how I feel.  NAME liked to write, too)

Here are some things that are important to know about the differences between adult and child grief, as well.

First, adults tend to go through the various stages of grief as outlined by the infamous Kubler- Ross books.   Children do not.  They tend to skip around with stages and at times seem unaffected.  Teens tend to congregate together in support.  This can sometimes be positive, but also can be negative.  This age group needs to be monitored very closely when a friend dies, especially if it was due to special circumstances, such as suicide.

Second, children don't always know how to censor their expressions of sympathy.  I have unfortunately worked with many families who were experiencing grief.  Sometimes, they would become upset because a child was perceived as saying an unkind comment, such as "Where will you put _NAME__   toys now?"  However, in actuality children tend to think in more concrete terms and not as in depth, thus seeming as if they they are rude and have no ability to control/censor their comments.  Conversely, children can be a bright light among the darkness for many families.  Their ability to "tell it as it is" can be refreshing compared to adults who stumble through the grief.

Thirds, children will grieve, but in their own ways.  Several months will pass before a child may actually processes the loss.  Many times this will be triggered by another event, such as the death of a pet, end of the year ceremony and when a child sees the family of the deceased after a period of absence.

Fourth, children and adults need to know that there is help for all who need to move through their grief.  Some people find comfort with clergy, school counselors, mental health workers, or in the comfort of friends.  Others find journaling, taking an active role with an organization that was connected to the deceased or other forms of positive outlets to be constructive ways to help.  Try and be aware of people who are "stuck" and can't move on from their intense feelings of grief.  Seek help if this happens to someone around you.

I hope this answers your question.  Again, my sympathies to all.

The book I cited is On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
I also added a website from the National Association for School Psychologists that may have pertinent information for you.

Louise Masin Sattler, NCSP
Nationally Certified School Psychologist
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Additional Answers (2)

eliad , Parent writes:
I'm so sorry to hear about your niece's school mate death.
 It sure a hard topic to deal with for most adults, let alone kids. has a collection of article that deal with this topic:

I hope you'll find some practical advise. My best wishes to the child's family and to your community in this hard times.
> 60 days ago

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Kidspress , Teacher, Parent writes:
Grief is a collection of feelings that usually takes over the heart and mind of a person who has been affected by a great trauma, such as the death of a loved one. The different feelings produced can be overwhelming and can cause the afflicted person to be unable to carry on with their normal activities (work, socializing, hobbies, etc.) for a period of time that may last between days and years.

Psychologists disagree about whether or not people move through stages of different feelings and behaviors when dealing with grief, or whether they simply make gradual changes in the way they deal with traumatic events. However, experts agree that most people experience many of the same feelings in a specific order.

First, the shock of an event like a death in the family can be too much to deal with all at once. People can go numb, and seem to ignore, or be pretending to be unaffected by, the event. Some may even enter a period of denial, acting like they don’t believe it happened.

When they do start to allow the truth to affect them, they may become focused on blaming someone or something else, feel yearning (a desire to go back to the past, before the event happened), or even feel strong feelings of anger at the event. When they realize that their actions cannot change the event, they may feel helpless and fall into an extended period of intense depression. Many people can become stuck for a long time in these feelings and may be unable to function at all in their day-today lives.

Uncertainty about the future and less-severe sadness may follow as depression lifts. As time passes, people are able to finally accept that the event has happened and produced permanent changes in their lives, and they begin to let go of their focus on the past and finally take action to deal with the future.

Dealing with grief is something that each and every one of us will have to go through at some stage of our lives. When something traumatic happens to you or someone you know, you can understand that it takes time and working through different feelings in order to deal with it. Processing these feelings and moving through them can be easier and faster if you have someone to talk to, like a friend or family member, or a professional therapist or psychologist. If someone you know if affected by grief, you can understand and accept that their behavior will change over time and that they might need your support in getting through the different parts of dealing with their grief.

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