Back To School With Grief


With summer break ending and kids returning back to school there can be a wide mix of feelings and reactions for children and teens. This is common for all students, but especially true for grieving students. Some may be looking forward to the comforts that a familiar peer based school setting can provide, and the routine and structure of returning to school. Students may be excited to be with their friends, or to have school work be a nice distraction from their grief thoughts. While other students may view back-to-school time with stress or worry about how they will navigate their grief while at school. Perhaps some grieving students are entering into new schools, or have had a life changing grief experience over the summer. Regardless if the student is excited, or worried about returning to school, we understand that commonly grief will proceed on its own time line and on its own individual terms. Students will continue to experience their grief emotionally, physically, cognitively, and socially throughout the school year as well as through the summer. Grief is always changing and never ending.


We have put together a few helpful key tips to consider at this back-to-school time.

  • Notify a school staff member

    Identifying support people within the school building, perhaps that is the student’s homeroom teacher, school social worker or counselor.

  • Have a plan for the difficult days

    Sometimes we can anticipate a more known difficult grief day, like the anniversary of the loved one’s death, birthdays, and holidays. However, the reality of grief is that some days are just harder than others and often times that reason is unknown. We encourage you to make a communication plan with your child/teen and school staff if they feel like they need additional support and/or to call a parent/guardian. Discuss and practice coping tools i.e. deep breaths.

  • Prepare your child for other kids

    If other students are aware of the death or have noticed that your child has been absent from school they may ask questions about the death. Inform your child that this may happen and they have the right to decide what they share with others. Perhaps even assist them with planning an answer for if and when they are questioned.

  • Normalize possible grief reactions

    As noted earlier, grief effects all aspects of our being. Prepare your child that that they may have trouble focusing, concentrating and remembering. Inform them that all of these reactions are normal.

  • Remind them that it’s okay to laugh and have fun

    Grief is hard work and it is necessary in the healing process to take a break from the sadness and enjoy what life has to offer.

Cara Mearns-Thompson