Pathways - Supporting students who have a family member with an advanced serious illness

If you’re a school staff person, you will likely encounter a student who is living with the anxiety of a family member’s life-limiting illness. You will have the opportunity to be a support person for your student, providing empathy as they face the serious illness, and perhaps death, of a family member.
One of the most helpful and healing things to do for your student is to listen to their story without judging, interpreting, evaluating or offering advice. Listening, even briefly, to anything they’re willing to share sends the message that you are a safe and supportive person.

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Pathways - Supporting Children and Teens When A Family Member Has an Advanced Serious Illness

Explaining that someone has a life-limiting illness to a child or teenager can feel overwhelming and daunting. These tips may help you have that hard conversation and know better how to support your child during the challenges of living with a family member who has an advanced serious illness.
Begin the Conversation.
Giving children difficult news is not an easy task, though your child will likely have already sensed that something has shifted within the family. Knowing that it will be painful for a child to hear that a parent or other family member has an illness that they may ultimately die from often leads caregivers to wait for the “right” time to share challenging, life-altering news. However, rarely is there a “perfect time” to have these conversations with children. Waiting can lead to hurried exchanges that provide too little information or that comes too late in the illness for children to best cope and be included in the experience. The “perfect time” then, is the one that is created by you which leaves ample space for questions, reactions, and clarification.

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Supporting Children and Teens after a Murder or Violent Death

Explaining murder to children and teens can feel overwhelming. Here are some tips to help you talk with and support grieving children and teens after a violent death.

How do I tell my child or teen? It’s a question we hear a lot. Start with a short, simple explanation of what happened in language children can understand. Let their questions guide what else to share. You do not have to describe in detail what happened (unless they ask, and then you should answer honestly). You might say, “Mommy died. She was stabbed and she died.” Avoid euphemisms such as passed away, went to sleep, crossed over, or lost, as they can confuse children. Even though these discussions can be hard to have, being honest and open is an important first step in helping grieving children. It minimizes the confusion that comes from misinformation, and also keeps children from using their limited energy and inner resources to figure out what happened.

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Tips for Supporting Grieving Teens

If you know a teen who has experienced a death, you might be wondering, “How can I help?” Here are a some tips to keep in mind. In general, if you find yourself unsure of what to do or say, remember to take your cues from the teen. It’s likely that they know, or will be able to figure out, what they need. Your willingness to listen to their concerns and questions, as well as be present with their thoughts and feelings, creates a foundation of safety, trust, and support.

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