Chapter 1: Recognizing student grief
Common signs of grief in the classroom
“She used to have a sunny disposition but lately I’ve been noticing she gets easily agitated with her classmates and sometimes she becomes emotional over seemingly small things that would never have bothered her before.” - Teacher
Look for changes in behaviour, performance or personality. You’ll need to observe and consider whether or not this is a new behaviour and how it might be related to a student’s grief. Here are some examples of behaviours and signs you may notice in your classroom.
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Difficulty concentrating, daydreaming, increased distractibility.
Irritability, impatience, frustration.
Body aches, fatigue, changes in weight or appearance.
Clumsiness, increased accidents/injuries.
Regression, increased dependence and need for attention.
Clinging/affectionate behaviours with teachers and adults (particularly younger children).
Heightened sensitivity, emotional and physical volatility.
Avoiding talking about the person who died.
Concern/hypervigilance about other family members. Wanting to call home frequently.
Death-play/preoccupation with death.
Withdrawal/decreased interest/increased passivity (e.g., quitting things, not trying).
Under- or over-achievement.
“Big” behaviours (noisy outbursts, anger, physical aggression).
Alcohol or drug use.
Grief will very likely complicate any existing challenges, such as an illness or disability. Also, a student’s response to a new loss will be affected, positively or negatively, by any previous ones.
See also:Supporting Bereaved Students at School (2017). Edited by Jacqueline A. Brown & Shane R. Jimerson. Oxford University Press.