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Midlands’ school community guided through their grief

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When a number of deaths, including suicide, impacted students at three local primary schools in the Midlands earlier this year, their teachers sought guidance to help their pupils in their grief.

The principal of one of the schools, Linda Dowling, reflected on the challenging time. “The entire school community was in shock following a number of very sad deaths. Our school psychologist advised us on how to explain the bereavements to children in our classes and how to settle children on their return to class. However, we had a lot of questions and staff were feeling very anxious about how to approach the topic of death in the classroom.”

In particular Linda said staff were worried about explaining death to their youngest pupils, and how to know if a child needed extra support.

“We wondered how our young children aged between four and eight understood the concept of death and how could we support them in their grief. We thought about how each child is unique and would express their grief differently, and we had questions regarding time frames for the grieving process and how to know if a child should be referred to outside interventions such as Rainbows.”

Linda contacted our Bereavement Department to source specialist bereavement training for over 70 staff from across the three schools. Our Training Manager Breffni McGuinness, taught them how to understand the grieving process, different types of death, including suicide, and how to care
for their pupils, colleagues and themselves.

The training was a great resource for staff said Linda. “We now feel that we have the tools to provide support for our youngest pupils and we are much more aware of the range of outside supports that are available should the children or their families need them.”

How to support a bereaved child:

  • Acknowledge the loss is important and that it matters.
  • Listen to their thoughts, feelings and opinions.
  • Let them know it’s okay to ask questions.
  • Maintain the day-to-day routine as much as possible.
  • Reading can be a really good way to support them in talking about their feeling and concerns.

Teachers and school staff play a unique role in supporting bereaved children. The Irish Childhood Bereavement Network has developed a number resources for teachers, and anyone supporting someone through a bereavement. They are available on www.childhoodbereavement.ie

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