HELPING YOUR STUDENT COPE WITH GRIEF OR COPING WITH A TRAGIC EVENT
In the aftermath of this tragedy, your child/student will be in need of your help. Coping with a sudden, traumatic event is a difficult and foreign experience, and each individual will cope in his or her own way. It is important to recognize what are “normal” reactions and what you can do to help your student cope/recover in the days and weeks to come.
THE DO’S AND DON’TS OF TALKING WITH GRIEVING STUDENTS
Do’s of Talking with Grieving Students:
1. Do let your genuine concern and caring show.
2. Do be available to listen (you don’t always have to talk, encourage them to talk).
3. Do say you are sorry about what happened to their friend/person and about their pain.
4. Do allow them to express as much grief as they are feeling at the moment and willing to share.
5. Do encourage them to talk about the friend/person they have lost as much and as often as they want to.
6. Do encourage them to be patient with themselves, not to expect too much of themselves and not to impose any special duties on themselves.
7. Do talk about some special, endearing qualities of the friend/person they have lost.
Don’ts of Talking with Grieving Students:
1. Don’t let your own sense of helplessness keep you from reaching out to a bereaved student.
2. Don’t avoid the grieving because you are uncomfortable (being avoided by friends adds pain to an already intolerably painful experience).
3. Don’t say you “ought to be feeling better by now” or anything else that implies a judgment about their feelings. (No right answer to length of grief).
4. Don’t tell them what they should feel or do.
5. Don’t change the subject when they mention the dead student/person.
6. Don’t avoid mentioning the student’s/person’s name out of fear of reminding them of the pain. They haven’t forgotten it.
7. Don’t point out that at least they have their other friends. Friends are not interchangeable: they cannot replace each other.
1. Don’t say that they can always make new friends: another friend would not replace the one they have lost.
Normal Reactions to Traumatic/Tragic Events:
This is not an all inclusive list, nor does every individual experience the following:
Feelings: - of sadness, anger, guilt, anxiousness, loneliness, disillusionment/sense of injustice, helplessness, numbness
Thought Patterns: - of disbelief/denial of event, confusion, impaired concentration and attention span, preoccupation with and/or fear of event reoccurring, flashbacks, loss of faith, suicidal ideation
Physical Sensations/Symptoms – of fatigue, dizziness/faintness, rapid heart rate, nausea, profuse sweating, chills, short of breath, lightness in chest/throat, headaches, over sensitivity to noise
Behaviors – sleep disturbances, nightmares, diminished or increased appetite, restlessness, social withdrawal, sudden tearfulness/crying, emotional outbursts, increased family conflicts, loss of normal patterns of conduct
*If the reactions/symptoms above are severe or persist for several weeks, professional counseling and/or medical care may be indicated. Refer to the attached resources, your physician, or other mental health agencies/professionals you are familiar with.
Suggestions for Parents to Help Your Student Cope/Recover:
More than anything listen to them! Encourage them to express as much grief as they are feeling at the moment and they are willing to share.
Don’t try to find the “magic words” that will end their struggle with the event. They don’t exist!
Examples of words NOT to use are: “You’ll get over it”, “I know how you feel”, “Lucky it wasn’t worse”, etc….Instead a simple “I’m sorry” or a hug will go a long way.
Use honest language. Say words that apply: “accident”, “dead”, “critical condition”, “victim”, “survivor”, etc. DO NOT AVOID mentioning the names of the deceased in fear of reminding them of their pain (they haven’t forgotten it).
Encourage well-balanced and regular meals, physical activity, and rest.
Don’t take their anger or other feelings personally.
Gently encourage them to return to their normal activities/routine.