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Terminal Illness or Death of a Family Member


Guidelines with Terminal Illness in a Student's Family


β–‘ Teachers must inform the Principal.
β–‘ Together with the family, establish an agreement around the issue of confidentiality.
β–‘ Share information and develop strategies.
β–‘ Continually remind yourself that the child will go through feelings of helplessness, ambivalence, guilt, anger, and depression.
β–‘ Each person's grief is unique and a child's home environment and upbringing will bear most significantly on his or her ability to cope.
β–‘ A good means of allowing the child to deal with his or her feelings and discover his or her normalcy is to provide story books dealing with loss, illness, anticipatory grief and death. This "Bibliotherapeutic" process consists of three stages:

1. Identification - the reader identifies with the main character

2. Catharsis - as a result of the identification there is release of emotional and psychological tension

3. Insight - new insight into the reader's problem is gained via the process of  "working through"

"Working Through"

β–‘ Through a teacher's modelling of appropriate grieving behaviour, permission and support is given legitimizing the child's grief.
β–‘  If a child cannot or will not talk about his or her loss, respect that right. Provide other avenues for him or her to express what he or she is feeling - clay, dance to music, write a story or poem physical activity.
β–‘  Guilt is normal; talk to the child about it be aware of the child's developmental stage and intellectual and emotional limitations encourage.
β–‘  The child to take care of himself or herself, to eat properly, get enough sleep and exercise.
β–‘  Help the child break down the mourning experience into parts so that he or she can deal with it and assimilate it a little at a time.
β–‘  Give hope and encouragement that life goes on. Encourage the child to remember the happy moments and to cherish them because no one can take away memories.



It would be expected that in the event of the death of a family member, the family would advise the student of the death. However, in extreme situations, the school official bears a major responsibility in breaking the news to the student or staff member.



Informing an Individual Student (i.e. death of a family member)
β–‘ Student should be told by someone he/she knows and trusts – Principal, Teacher, Child and Youth Worker, Counsellor
β–‘ Student should be taken to a place where there is privacy and where he or she can remain after receiving the news. Someone who is close to the student should remain with him or her.
β–‘ The student will want to know "what is going to happen to me now?" and he or she will be anxious to know when a family member or friend will be coming for him or her or available to console him or her. There may be circumstances where it might be appropriate to put off informing the child of what has happened until this has been clarified and, in fact, it may take some initiative on the school's part to ensure this is set up.
β–‘ The student should be told simply and directly. It is not necessary to offer details, but be prepared to answer questions directly and honestly. Do not be afraid to talk openly about feelings and emotions. You can expect any number of reactions. There is no correct response.
β–‘ Physical contact may be reassuring, but not all students will want it. ​Respect his or her wishes, but do not leave the child alone.
β–‘ Tell the student that it is okay to express feelings if he or she remains silent.
β–‘ Inform all the student's teachers as soon as possible.