Back to School: A Guardian’s Guide to Helping a Grieving Child

As I discussed in my last blog post, my dad died on the fourth day of fourth grade.  I took days four through nine off from school and Monday I was expected to go back.

“What? My dad just died. I’m not leaving my mom for 7 hours a day to just go to school.  We can come up with another plan.” These are just a few of the thoughts that popped through my head Sunday as my mom was preparing me to go back to school.  I had no desire to go.  My mom being the profound woman she was had a plan.

Remember that your child is going to be anxious about school, more than normal.  They are worried that something is going to happen to their other loved ones.  They’re going to worry about something happening to them.  They’re going to be worried about what their friends are going to say about them or to them.  They are going to feel alone.

The following tips are a mix of some that I have done myself as a child and what I recommend for parents and guardians who are sending grieving kiddos back to school this fall.

  • Have a special animal. The day before I went back to school after my dad died, my mom and I went to Build a Bear and built a bear and dressed him up like my dad.  We gave him a cowboy outfit complete with guitar and cowboy hat and named him “Bobby Bear.”  I took him to school with me in my backpack and was allowed to give him a quick hug when I needed it.  He had to stay in my locker, but just knowing that my special bear was in there was very helpful.
  • Read a book together. There are several books that talk about feeling their loved ones and being with them even when they are apart from each other.  One of the books I love to recommend to parents is called “The Invisible String” by Patrice Karst.  It is a great book that talks about an invisible string that keeps us connected to our loved ones even when we are apart.  This is a great read not only for grieving children, but anxious children also.
  • Let the teachers and administration know. At this point if your child has missed school, it is likely that your child’s teachers and staff know what has happened.  Let them know when your child is expected to go back to school and let the teachers know how your child is doing.  Take this opportunity to educate them about your child’s grief.  Let them know that your child may seem like they’re fine, but they’re not.  They could get easily distracted and not be able to concentrate on work in the classroom.  You can suggest a code to let your child have breaks to walk to the water fountain to collect themselves.
  • Keeping a routine. Being able to find a new routine after the death of a loved one is important.  The person who died may have been the one that dropped them off or picked them up from school.  Your child is going to miss this daily time with that person, and it is important that the new person that takes them to school is consistent.  Also, keeping as close to your routine once you set it will help ease child’s anxiety.
  • Give your child the information. Let your child know what the new routine is and when changes will happen so they know what to expect.  They may have to go to a new after school care if they’re after school caregiver died.  Let them know where they are going and let them know as much information as they want to know so they feel prepared.
  • Writing notes. Writing little notes to leave in their backpack or lunchbox will help them stay connected to you throughout the day when they find it.  A small note can bring them so much joy when they are having a rough day.
  • Take time for a special lunch. If your child’s school allows, you could have one lunch a month that you go surprise them at school with a special lunch.  This can be on days that could be hard days or just when you think they need a break.  Take them their favorite treat and that will help them have courage to make it through the day.


  • Safety teachers. One thing that really got me through hard days when I went back to school after my dad died was knowing there were a handful of teachers that I could go take a break with when I needed it.  My homeroom teacher in fourth grade was amazing and thankfully I was with her most of the day anyway.  She knew that sometimes I just needed a break so she would look at me and say, “you good?” and I would reply.  I also had the counselor as well as another special teacher I had since second grade that I knew I could just go take a break in her room when she didn’t have a class.
  • Make weekend time count. Making sure you’re going to have time set aside with your child on the weekends as they are transitioning back to school is important.  If your child knows that they have special time with you during the weekend, that will give them a little extra incentive to make it through the week.

Published by Bryna Talamantez

LMFT specializing in grief counseling for children, teens, adults and families.

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