One of the most traumatic things that can happen to a kids is the death of a classmate. Depending on the age group, the type of support will vary when kids lose a classmate. Elementary age children don’t really have a well developed concept of death. Teenagers typically do, but they may have never experienced a death, much less one that affects a classmate.
With all children, make sure there is an open, safe place for them to talk and ask questions. With smaller kids, the questions will be very literal. They may even want the gory details. Their minds are very visual and concrete, so they’ll seek out information that makes sense at their stage of development. With this age group, keep answers brief and simple. They simply cannot process more.
Teenagers will need a different type of support. High schools will often employ extra counselors during a time of traumatic death. Teenagers may feel like they need to be with their classmates all of the time. They will have more spiritual questions. They may talk about nothing but the dead person. Depending on how the child died, the school may want to set up some specific programming to address the subject. Many teenagers die in alcohol related accidents, drug overdoses and suicide. Each of these deaths carries a different stigma that has to be addressed.
Mostly, the children need to know that the death is not their fault, it is not a type of punishment, and whatever they are feeling is natural. Teachers shouldn’t be afraid to let the kids see their grief. Kids need to know that their leaders feel sorrow and therefore truly understand the grief they are feeling. For a day or so, schools may want to offer a time and space for a grief support group where older kids can process the death with each other in a healthy environment.