Culturally Sensitive Approaches to Support Grief in the Classroom (page 2)

By — Diversity in Education Special Edition Contributor
Updated on May 17, 2010

Ongoing Communication and Collaboration with Parents

Consistent communication with parents may increase their comfort in sharing personal information, such as their family’s death experiences, with you.

Awareness and Acknowledgement of Cultural Symbols Related To The Death And Grief Experience

The acknowledgement of cultural death symbols may go a long way in supporting children’s grief. In my own research with Black youth following the violent deaths of their loved ones in New Orleans, I found that they used creative ways to cope with their grief and remain close to their loved ones (3). One such way was through the use of T-Shirts and other paraphernalia bearing the picture and facts about the deceased, to symbolize the life and death of their loved ones. If a child comes to school wearing a memorial t-shirt, acknowledge their loss by acknowledging their t-shirt. You can say, “Tell me about your t-shirt” or “I can see that your loved one really means a lot to you”

Outlets for self-expression

Like adults, children respond to violent death experiences in a variety of ways. You can facilitate their grief process through activities such as art and movement, which allow for creative expression.


Make your classroom a safe-haven for students. The suddenness of violent death may increase children’s sense of vulnerability to death. In many cases, families of homicide victims know the perpetrators, often leaving children fearful for their personal and family’s safety.

Positive Images of African Americans

Be sure that students are exposed to positive images of African Americans, not only during specials holidays or observances like Black History Month, but also throughout the year. This is particularly important in combating the effects of negative media portrayal of Blacks as well as the high violent death rate among Black males.


Take advantage of the numerous resources available to facilitate conversations related to death and grief with children, like books and videos.


  1. Bureau of Justice Statistics (2000). Homicide trends in the U.S.: Trends by gender.Accessed online at
  2. Doka, K.J. (1989). Disenfranchised grief: Recognizing hidden sorrow. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
  3. Doka, K.J. (1995). Friends, teachers, movie stars: The disenfranchised grief of children. In E.A. Grollman (Ed.), Bereaved children and teens: A support guide for parents and professionals. Boston: Beacon Press.
  4. Bordere, T. C. (2009). ‘To look at death another way’: Black teenage males’ perspectives on second-lines and regular funerals in New Orleans. Omega, 58 (3), 213-232.
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