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How can I help a grieving youth transition back to school?

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With school just around the corner, you may be wondering how you can support a youth who, in addition to dealing with the ongoing uncertainty of Covid-19, has also experienced the death of someone significant. Whether the plan is to attend school in person or remotely, one thing is clear: youth who are grieving need caring adults in their lives to start the conversation and help plan for a smoother return to the classroom.

Not sure where to start? Below, we highlight various resources designed to help caregivers, educators, and other potential supports connect with youth who are grieving.

  • Kidsgrief.ca on the Canadian Virtual Hospice website offers modules created for both parents and educators with guidance on how to talk with children and youth about serious illness, dying and death. Particularly, KidsGrief.ca for educators discusses how to apply strategies to help students cope with Covid-19 related impact, death, and grief.
  • Lighthouse has created these short but effective tip sheets that can be used to help prompt discussion:

Returning to school after a death – how you can help provides suggestions on how caregivers can make this transition easier. When possible, caregivers can help by talking to the youth’s teachers and school counsellor, making a communication plan around what information the youth would like to share and how, preparing the youth for other students’ questions or comments, identifying trusted supports in the school setting, rehearsing coping strategies, and importantly, giving the youth permission to have fun again.

Supporting a grieving child or teen at school identifies signs of a grieving student, and ways teachers and school staff can assist. These include educators reaching out to the family before the student returns to school, creating a support plan to help the youth manage triggers and emotionally difficult days, and fostering a grief friendly classroom by providing opportunities to express feelings and emotions. Be sure to share this poster with the educators in your youth’s life: 20 Things grieving students would like teachers to know.

  • Social support at school is paramount so involve peers! Your friend is grieving, tips for supporting them created by the Dougy Center gives concrete ideas on how to show up for a friend who is navigating loss. Be sure to share this with the students you work with if you are an educator or alternately, as a caregiver you can encourage the youth who is grieving to share this with friends. 
  • Lastly…sometimes it’s hard to know how best to support a youth depending on the individual circumstances. Attend a free online Q&A with child and youth grief expert Andrea Warnick. On the first Tuesday of every month from 1:00-2:00pm ET, you can join in and ask your own questions or listen to and learn from other’s grief experiences. Just register here. Or if you have a question about terminal illness, end-of-life care, loss, or bereavement, you may be interested in checking out Canadian Virtual Hospice’s Ask a Professional. Their team of palliative care experts will provide a detailed, personal response within three working days – and no need to worry, all questions and answers are kept confidential.

With so many available resources at your fingertips, you can be sure that you’re helping the youth in your life start the new school year on the right note. While losing a loved one is never easier, it’s always a little bit easier knowing there’s people around who care.

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