We understand that it is often extremely hard for teachers and schools to know how to help grieving students. This section is just an introduction to what you can do to support sibling(s). Reach out to us - firstname.lastname@example.org - if you’d like advice or someone to chat ideas through with.
Going back to school is an important step for young people whose brother or sister has recently died.
For some it can be a scary prospect, for others they are wanting to get back to some kind of normality.
We know from lots of young people that positive experiences of school are hugely important, but negative experiences can impact them for years to come - no pressure!
Things can be especially tough if the sibling that died also went to your school, how do you support friends of the pupil? Their family? Staff?
We’ll start by making things very simple - with four key themes that will help you support siblings - we’ll then offer you a range of different resources that you can use for different age groups.
“Some teachers didn’t know what to say and were awkward, others were… a bit over the top”
Acknowledging the death of their sibling is very important, but this doesn’t need to be done by the world and their wife.
A trusted teacher, for example a form tutor, head of year, or favourite subject teacher should speak to the young person privately.
Here the teacher can acknowledge their sibling had died, let them know what (and if) other pupils know anything and find out what support they’d like.
You could ask them what can be done to make them feel happier at school, let them know you’ll check in with them occasionally and tell them you are there for anything they need to speak about.
“If I felt upset I would nod at one of my teachers and they’d let me leave to have a few minutes by myself”
“Don't be scared [about us wanting to speak to a teacher], be there to listen.”
Communication, communication, communication.
An open and honest dialogue between the young person and their family is really important. Young people need to know there is someone there for them, that you care about how they feel and you’re willing to support.
Treat them like grown ups, ask them what can be done to make them happy at school, check on how they are and keep an eye on them.
More often than not young people appreciate that people care for them, but they don’t want to be made to feel different to everyone else. Try to be subtle with your support.
Young people that helped create this website have in the past said agreed signs with teachers made them feel more comfortable in lessons. It could be a note, a nod or a quick chat. Sometimes young people need just a few minutes to reset and have some time by themselves.
This communication shouldn’t just stop after a few weeks or months, after a sibling dies many young people will need the help for years to come.
“Just because we look happy, doesn’t mean we actually are”.
People respond to grief in different ways. Some young people might bottle up their feelings, want to return to normality whilst you may see behavioral changes in others. Some siblings will show clear behavioural changes (eating less food at lunchtimes, removing themselves from speaking to friends etc) whilst other signs are harder to spot.
Be sensitive to what the young person's needs are, this comes through communicating with each other.
By having someone looking out for them and chatting to them young people can be more open about how they really feel.
In turn you can understand what might make them upset or happy, and be able to do something about it.
There could be certain subjects or lessons that are upsetting them - stories of death in history, reproduction in biology, ethical questions in religious studies. They may keep seeing things that remind them of their sibling or they might have classmates asking questions that unintentionally provoke them. These things can be hard to spot but they might be willing to tell a teacher they trust.
“There is no time limit to grief”.
Support should never stop. For many young people they can feel overwhelming emotions years after their siblings death.
Our grief changes over time, and shapes itself in different ways and so should the support you offer. For example, a young person less receptive to chatting to a teacher may end up wanting to.
Sibling Support offers a variety of options to help you help them.
Sibling Support Booklets:
We've spent a few months working with young people and professionals to develop a series of sibling specific booklets. They can be downloaded here or physical versions (which are preferred) can be ordered, for free, just let us know how many you need - email@example.com.
We're working on a range of animations to make certain topics more understandable. We would welcome your feedback on what animations you want to see. Feel free to download these animations and use them with reference to SiblingSupport. Our next one out explains grief during exam periods.
Plantable memory hearts these hearts can be decorated with a siblings name or a message and once planted will grow into beautiful wildflowers. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org, if you would like some.
Memory boxes are another great activity, helping young people remember and think about their sibling. We can send you a box and things to use with it if you email us.
A look inside my mind is one of our worksheets designed to be used by professionals and adults to speak through the emotions of a young person. You may also find this useful in conjunction with our booklets.
Dot to dot is another free worksheet, particularly suited for younger children. They can draw themselves and their sibling. This is a great memory activity that can encourage conversation and discussion for kids.
In conversation with Julia Samuel Julia is a bereavement counsellor and psycotherapist and has decades of experience in supporting young people. You might find out conversation with her interesting, understanding how young people can react and what can be done to support them.