Tools for grieving adolescents and teens returning to school
Fall signals the impending changes in the seasons and, for our youth, the return to school. The beginning of the school year is often a time of excitement (or dread!) for students as they reunite with classmates and friends and return to a sense of normalcy, structure and routine. The new school year often represents a time of hope and potential that can lessen grief and sadness. School activities, homework, and after school programs can serve as distractions and healthy coping mechanisms for grief.
Despite the positive aspects about returning to school, there are also many painful reminders of a student’s loss embedded in the school environment. First day excitement, school pictures, extra-curricular activities, and the expected presence of a loved one at school functions are painful reminders that someone your child loves is no longer living. Grief travels with your student to school and has the ability to impact his or her learning, concentration, and interaction with friends. Kids want normalcy and to fit in with their friends and peers. They don’t want to be different. But they are different.
As summer transitions into fall take the opportunity to talk with your student about his or her feelings and expectations regarding the new school year. Encourage them to talk about fears or concerns related to school and the loss of his or her loved one. This may include identifying who knows about the death, how to talk with others about the person who died and what to do when your student is experiencing a hard grief day at school. Informing teachers and counselors of your student’s loss make the faculty valuable resources during difficult times. Their ability to monitor student behavior and academic performance can act as a safety net for your student.
Adolescents and teens living with grief are remarkably resilient. With a little preparation, your teen can return to school ready to face the challenges of a new year with more than just grief in their backpack.