Chapter 1: Communication strategies

When families or student are reluctant to communicate

What the grief expert says
Lysa Toye, social worker, psychotherapist, talks about when teens request privacy about their homelife.(3:22)
Lysa Toye, social worker, psychotherapist, talks about when a teenager doesn't want you to connect with their family.(3:22)
Lysa Toye, social worker, psychotherapist, talks about managing information and respecting boundaries between home and school.(3:22)Video transcript

“Once I explained that my intention was only to best support his son and help the family, the dad was a little bit more open with me. I know they were a private family and I wanted to respect that. I also wanted to support Johnny through this, but I couldn’t do that if I didn’t know what was going on”. – Teacher

Amidst the intensity of emotions and many competing demands, parents and students alike may feel understandably protective and have different levels of comfort in accepting support and guidance from outside sources, such as school staff. While some family members may view your school’s involvement as supportive and valued, others may see it as an intrusion into private family life.

You may find in working with the family and/or the grieving student that they may be reluctant to communicate and share about the illness and/or death. Take the time to sensitively communicate the following to them: 

  • The staff will be better equipped to support their child if they have clear information. 
  • Children benefit from having access to honest information.
  • Children benefit from not feeling that the illness or death is a secret.
  • It is very helpful for children to feel that their family supports their talking about illness or dying with whomever they choose.


Remember that, ultimately, it’s necessary to adhere to the family’s decisions about how much information they wish to share and what support they’d like to receive from the school.