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Advice and support for secondary school teachers

Normal reactions to a traumatic event

Following any distressing event it is quite normal to experience a range of reactions. Each person will respond in her/his own way. Students may show some of the following:

  • Not being able to concentrate or want to do school work or make decisions
  • Avoiding places, people or objects which remind them of the incident
  • Physical effects such as feeling unwell, headaches, listlessness or over activity
  • Nightmares, irritability Feelings of guilt and/or responsibility
  • Difficulty accepting events and how they have been affected e.g. appearing over brave
  • Changes in personality e.g. feeling depressed or isolated, becoming irritable or angry
  • Needing to go over and over the incident which can test the patience of those closest
  • Seeing or hearing the person who has died.

These reactions are all common responses and are usually short-lived, e.g. Up to four weeks. The majority of people will get over the experience with the support of family, friends and school

How to help your pupils

A traumatic event often leaves people feeling confused and unsettled, it is therefore very important to consider the following strategies

  • Listen to and try to understand your pupil’s views of the event
  • Give attention, reassurance and say things simply
  • Allow your pupils to talk about the event and express their feeling – give them reassurance and permission to feel upset
  • Check children’s understanding of the event
  • Answer pupil’s questions as truthfully as possible
  • Maintain daily routines both at home and at school
  • Encourage healthy eating, exercise and rest
  • Encourage resumption of social activities e.g. clubs
  • Let children know that their reactions are as might be expected
  • It can help to recall happy memories

Adolescents are likely to:

  • Have an adult understanding of death
  • Experience and adult-like expression of grief
  • Understand the consequence of the death - aware of future absence of deceased
  • Feel that possessions of the deceased are important
  • Feel that school and peers are very important
  • Have moments when they idealise the person
  • Turn to peers for support and want to 'fit in'
  • Often take on the role of comforter in the family
  • Get involved in risk taking behaviours  

Gilbert, I. (2010). The little book of bereavement for schools. London: Crown publishing Ltd.

Mackinnon, H. (2013). You just don’t understand: supporting bereaved teenagers. Winston’s Wish.

Rosen, M. (2004). Michael Rosen’s sad book. London: Walker 


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