Chapter 5: High school students

Supporting the student

What the grief expert says
Lysa Toye, social worker, psychotherapist, talks about experiences of grieving teens.(3:22)
Lysa Toye, social worker, psychotherapist, talks about supporting grieving teens.(3:22)Video transcript
What the parent says
Paul, talks about how school professionals played a key role in supporting his teens through their mom's illness.(3:22)Video transcript

“I didn’t want to go to that grief group with mom in the evenings, but I guess it was OK. At least the other kids there got it and I didn’t have to pretend everything was okay ”. - Student

Click on the arrows for some tips on offering support to the grieving high school student.

*Bereavement refers to having experienced the death of someone in your life.

When the student resists offers of support

Ongoing contact with your student is important but may be challenging at times. If a student resists your offers of support, try not to take it personally. It may be worth exploring whether they’d be open to receiving support from another staff member; but keep your door open so that they know that they can reach out to you at any time in the future. 


Even small efforts to provide grief support can have meaningful and lifelong effects on a grieving student.

Peer support

It is natural for high school students to gravitate towards their peers for emotional support. As a result, when a peer dies, high school students will often play a key role in supporting one another through their grief. However, when a student experiences the death of a family member this can be problematic because few of their peers are equipped with the skills to provide the necessary support. As a result, many teens end up navigating their grief largely on their own. 

Be proactive. Incorporate grief into your curriculum.

As an educator, you have an excellent opportunity to help students learn that grief affects everyone differently and understand what some of those reactions may be. When there is a death, you can re-visit this and remind them that it may bring up grief from previous losses. Provide opportunities for students/peers to learn and practice grief support skills.

See also:Module 2 – Strategies for Supporting Grieving Students; and Module 3 – Support for Student Deaths

Additional Web Resources for Teens

Surviving Life after the Death of a Parent
Cancer Really Sucks