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How staff can talk with students after a traumatic death

This topic is for all staff, but you and your school’s emergency response team should guide people through this information.

Student reactions will vary. Everyone’s reactions are unique, but you might notice:

  • confusion
  • anger or aggression
  • withdrawal
  • feelings of fear, guilt, betrayal or being abandoned
  • denial or blame
  • hurt or sadness
  • curiosity or indifference.

Any students who appear to be in real distress should be accompanied to the support room. Offer to contact their parents or carers to collect them.

Professional boundaries and safety

Try not to take on the role of a counsellor, make assessments or diagnose. This is the role of qualified mental health professionals.

Don’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. If you feel out of your depth, you do not have to cope on your own.

If a student asks you not to disclose any information, you need to tell them that part of your job is to keep them safe. Don’t guarantee confidentiality. Let them know it’s your job to pass on your concerns to the appropriate people.

Let students talk about what happened – facilitate the discussion

The first classes following the news should be done flexibly. Wherever possible, be guided by the students’ need to talk. The best way to do this is to set work for those who wish to resume normal lessons but allow others to:

  • speak quietly with each other
  • write in a journal
  • simply sit and think.

Encourage students to tell an adult if they are worried about themselves or a friend.

If a student turns to you for help, it’s because they trust you. Show you care and give them time to cope with what’s happening. Students need:

  • compassion
  • recognition
  • validation of their experience.

What if students want to talk about how the student died?

It is natural for students to think about this.

Always gently stop discussion about this when it happens. If students find this difficult to accept, try to help them understand using these talking points.

Talking points

  • How someone dies is very personal. It’s also upsetting.
  • If people talk about how the student died it:
    • is disrespectful to the feelings of the family and close friends
    • is likely to spread inaccuracies that can harm others
    • can be distressing and harmful to other young people, even if they don’t know the student.
  • Relatives and friends want people to remember the good things about a student’s life.

Remind students that:

  • support is available
  • some discussions are better done in private.

What helps

  • Try to listen and acknowledge. Don’t do all the talking.
  • Keep to the facts.
  • Allow students to express feelings.
  • Let students talk about different and healthy ways to cope with:
    • life challenges
    • difficult feelings.

Support contact details for students

Share the services for families and communities information with students, when needed.