Helping your child cope with the bereavement of a school friend

One of our schools had to deal with the tragic death of a senior student due a car crash at the weekend.

When I was 12 my best friend and his family were murdered by their father.  No-one thought to speak to me about the incident as at that time it was thought best not to linger on the issue.

Ever since then I’ve been very keen that parents are aware of the potential impact of the death of a peer upon their child – even one who does not appear to be close in terms of friendship, or age, or even at the same school.

To that end our Educational Psychology Service have provided advice that parents may wish to consider in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy such as the one experienced over the weekend.

Information for Parents/ Carers: How to support your child 

Your son/s or daughter/s may react in different ways to the news they have heard today in school (or heard in other places). They may or may not have known the boy who has died. The news may also affect you as a parent/ carer and others you know in the community in differing ways.

 In the next few days, and maybe for much longer, you may notice some of the following behaviours:

  • Feeling upset, sad, depressed, guilty or confused.
  • Being angry or being on a short fuse with family members and friends
  • Separation difficulties – not wanting to let parents or siblings out of sight
  • Sudden thoughts about what has happened – these can happen at any time and make it difficult to concentrate and remember things so well
  • Finding it harder to settle at night
  • Finding it difficult to talk about what has happened – younger children in particular may find this hard. When children find it difficult to talk they will express their feelings through their behaviour
  • Feeling afraid and vulnerable – understandably children may react in this way – but may try to hide these feelings – boys in particular may act tough or aggressive to try to hide their feelings
  • Denial – the child may seem surprisingly unaffected. Sometimes this can be because they are really hurt. The child will need help to cope with what has happened.
  • Guilt – this is a common response to death, especially if the child is unable to express their sadness about the loss. They will need reassurance that nothing they did had anything to do with the death that occurred.

 All of these behaviours are normal reactions to hearing about a death.

  What Can I Do to Help?

  • Let your son/daughter know its OK to feel peculiar, afraid, guilty, angry, sad – or any other feeling – and that it is OK to cry and be upset
  • Let your son/daughter know how you feel too – don’t try to hide this
  • Make time to talk while you’re doing something together – perhaps sharing an activity or looking at a book
  • Use books or videos or TV to explore feelings – this can help young people to recognise how they are feeling and realise that they are not alone
  • Provide reassurance and be patient
  • Your son/daughter may have lots of questions -young people of different ages tend to ask different sorts of questions. Try to provide honest answers and use easy-to-understand language. Young people need clear answers to help them learn about death whilst also feeling safe and secure.
  • It may be reassuring to remind them that people usually die when they are very old.

 When will my son/daughter feel better?

No one can say since all children/ young people and circumstances are different. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Allow your son/daughter the time it takes them to feel better. Remember that experiencing death is a normal part of being a human being. Your son/daughter will eventually feel better.

 Further sources of support

You may find these sources of further support helpful:

 Cruse bereavement helpline: 0870 167 1677



                                                             February 2009






5 thoughts on “Helping your child cope with the bereavement of a school friend

  1. Don,

    Thank you for posting this. As a nation, we do not handle grief well and I’m sure this advice will help people understand the welter of emotions children go through when faced with a bereavement.

  2. Superbly helfpul posting for many of us East Lothian parents who have children that knew this immensely popular young man. As a parent, I keep thinking how awful his parents must feel. Such promise so harshly ended. It’s a fear in the heart of us parents, especially in East Lothian, where a lot of our young people are involved in car incidents. Thank you for posting this at a time when you have your own grief.

  3. A very moving and thought provoking post. The advice is very welcome as it is difficult to know how best to support a young person at this time. The young people themselves are doing a good job of supporting each other. They are talking, meeting, texting and using sites like facebook to share their feelings, grief and also their memories. They have to know that all of this is ok, safe in the knowledge that they have us as teachers and parents to turn to when it all gets too much.

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