January 19, 2021

School Stress and Grieving Children

By Tracy Hart, LCMHC

A few months into the COVID-19 crisis, many families have settled into a “new normal” routine of juggling everyone’s needs while staying safe at home. However, online school continues to be a source of stress and frustration for most kids and teens — and their parents or caregivers, too. For those who are also coping with the death or illness of a loved one, it’s not unusual for grief emotions to negatively impact school performance.

The following suggestions may be helpful if your child is struggling with remote schooling.

1. Whenever possible, lower your expectations.

Grieving students may be feeling overwhelmed, irritable, sad or anxious. Strong emotion tends to shift the nervous system into a state of fight, flight, or freeze, making it impossible to access the part of our brain we need for learning. It’s appropriate to continue expecting your child to do their best. However, grief can make it necessary to temporarily redefine what “best” might mean for each individual child.

2. Talk with the school about the loss.

Let your child’s teacher and/or school counselor know that they are having a difficult time. The school may be able to provide accommodations so that your child can keep up (or catch up) with classwork or allow your child to be excused from some assignments.

3. Take breaks and adjust the workspace for comfort.

Make sure your child is hydrating throughout the day, taking bathroom breaks, and getting up out of the chair to move around as often as possible. If needed, help your child make adjustments so that the seating, lighting and noise level will be conducive to focusing on schoolwork. It may also be helpful to sandwich the school day with activities to relax or energize your child, depending on their individual needs.

4. Let your child know that some days may be harder or easier.

It’s vital for kids to hear that one mistake or bad day isn’t a failure, just an opportunity to reset and try again. Grief can be messy, and it’s not unusual for grief emotions to come and go. Even if today was a hard day, tomorrow is always a fresh start. Parents and caregivers can also offer this grace to themselves! We are all just doing the best we can, and your family will make it through this difficult time together.

Ask a Kids Path Counselor

Kids Path offers free phone consultations to anyone in the community whose child is impacted by death or severe illness. Call 336-621-2500 (Greensboro) or 336-532-0100 (Burlington) and ask to be connected with a Kids Path counselor.

Tracy Hart is children’s counselor on the Greensboro campus.