3 SIMPLE Ways to Help Students Cope with Grief and Loss

help students cope with grief and loss

Grief is a complex emotion that affects people of all ages, including young children. As teachers and school counselors, it’s important to recognize familiar signs of grief and provide the support needed to help children navigate their big feelings. Use done-for-you resources and engaging children’s books to help students cope with grief and loss!

Understanding Grief in Children

Grief is a person’s emotional response to loss. Children may experience loss for a variety of reasons such as:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Loss of a pet
  • Divorce
  • Moving
help children cope with grief and loss

Grief can manifest physically, behaviorally, and emotionally. Students are likely to react to grief differently, and that’s expected! It’s important to be aware of various ways grief may manifest in students of different ages. 

Grief in Early Elementary School Students

Students ages 5-7 are likely to show some of the following symptoms of grief:

Physical Symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Stomachaches
  • Fatigue

Behavioral Changes

  • Clinginess
  • Regression to earlier behaviors
  • Changes in sleep
  • Increase or decrease in appetite 

Emotional Responses

  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Mood swings
help students cope with grief and loss

Grief in Older Elementary School Students

Students aged 8-11 are likely to experience and show symptoms of grief a little differently (and sometimes less obviously!) than their younger peers. Grief for these students may look like:

Physical Symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Stomaches
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Unexplained aches

Behavioral Changes

  • Withdrawal from friends or activities
  • Anger
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Academic decline

Emotional Responses

  • Sadness
  • Guilt
  • Worry about the future
  • More complex questions about death and loss

3 Ways to Help Students Cope with Grief and Loss

Once you’ve identified students experiencing these big emotions, it’s vital to know how to support them!

1. Create a Supportive Environment

First, make sure your students feel safe and supported in your classroom. Encourage students to communicate openly with you without fear of judgment. 

school counselor helping student cope with grief and loss

Also, stick to a routine! When students know what to expect within your classroom, they can experience a much-needed sense of stability and security in a time that otherwise feels very overwhelming and unstable. 

2. Use Resources to Help Students Cope with Grief and Loss

Next, utilize done-for-you resources to support students experiencing grief and loss. 

grief curriculum for school counselors

The Coping with Grief: Group Counseling Curriculum has everything you need to structure counseling sessions with relatable and engaging activities for students who are dealing with grief or loss.

grief curriculum for school counselor to help students cope with grief and loss

It includes 9 group lessons targeting:

  • Coping skills
  • The stages of grief
  • Activities to remember and honor lost loved ones
  • Circle of Control activity
  • Activity about acceptance of grief
  • Board game with grief-related questions
  • & more!

Editable forms make this resource perfect for classroom teaching, individual counseling sessions, or group counseling sessions! 

  • Group Referral Forms
  • Parent Consent Form (in English and Spanish)
  • Student group reminders for desk
  • Attendance chart
  • Pre and Post Survey
  • Group Rules Form
  • Counselor/Psychologist/Social Worker/General Hall pass for group
  • Confidentiality sign
  • Certificate
activity to help children cope with grief

This counseling curriculum is available to print in color or black & white or as a digital resource in Google Slides. 

3. Incorporate Books & Videos

Finally, use kid-friendly books and videos! These are great ways to connect with students who have experienced grief and loss. Stories are often relatable for students, can help them know they aren’t alone in their feelings, and teach them effective coping strategies.

Here are some favorites you can read and watch together to encourage meaningful conversations about grief:

*As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. This means if you click on a link and make a purchase, I get a small commission that costs you nothing and helps me continue to provide this content. 

Grief is Like a Snowflake by Julia Cook

In this children’s book, Little Tree is sad because his father was chopped down and is now gone. He must learn how to deal with his big feelings. As he is supported by his friends and family, Little Tree learns grief is like a snowflake. Everyone grieves differently, and that’s okay. Little Tree begins to cope and heal from his father’s death by recognizing what is truly important in life and knowing that his memories of his father will forever be there. His father will not be forgotten because he is a part of Little Tree.

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst

In The Invisible String, a mother tells her two children that they're all connected by an invisible string. "That's impossible!" the children insist, but still they want to know more: "What kind of string?" The answer is the simple truth that binds us all: An Invisible String made of love. Even though you can't see it with your eyes, you can feel it deep in your heart, and know that you are always connected to the ones you love. 

Why Do I Feel So Sad? By Tracy Lambert-Prater

Why Do I Feel So Sad? helps children learn that they can experience grief for many different reasons. This book shows some of the possible scenarios like death, losing a pet, moving, divorce, and more. Tracy Lambert addresses several different feelings that a child may have while grieving and emphasizes these emotions are all okay. Children learn that they can process feelings of grief through talking to a trusted adult, through music or art, and more.

The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

In this story, a little girl loves listening to her grandpa read to her from his rocking chair, but one day the chair is empty. Her grandpa is gone. She is so sad that she puts her heart into a bottle which she hangs around her neck. She hoped by bottling up her heart, her life would feel easier, but it doesn’t. One day, she meets a young girl who helps her take her heart out of the bottle and live again.

Video: PBS KIDS Talk About: When A Pet Dies | PBS KIDS

Finally, incorporate this kid-friendly video to show students how to process feelings of loss. This video shows a family having a real conversation about their pet dying. They chat about their feelings, the ways they choose to cope with these emotions, and how they support each other.

As you help students cope with grief and loss, you will equip them to navigate big feelings and find healthy ways to cope. Remember, you’re not alone in this! Leverage your school and community’s support systems to provide the best care for your students to get them through challenging times.

You might also be interested in reading:

3 Tips for Helping Kids Cope with Testing Anxiety

Top 11 Favorite Children's Books About Safety 

You might also be interested in these products:

My Emotions Workbook & Feelings Posters, SEL activity

Acceptance - Character Education & Social Emotional Learning

Anger Management Small Group Counseling Curriculum

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