Chapter 3: When a family member has died

Communicating with the family

What the grief expert says
Andrea Warnick, registered psychotherapist, talks about who is best positioned in the school to support a grieving child.(3:22)Video transcript
What the parent says
Jenny talks about her daughter Phoebe's funeral and support she received from teachers at Mae's school.(3:22)Video transcript
Honour, talks about communicating with schools and teachers about a medically assisted death.(3:22)Video transcript

“The family really struggled with making a decision whether to share the cause of their son’s death with the school community. I gently explained why we recommend an honest approach yet assured them we would follow their decision.”  – Teacher  

If you’re the designated contact person, when you learn about the death you should reach out directly to the student’s parent(s) to acknowledge the death and offer your condolences. Let them know that you’re available to provide support to their child or children.

Keep the following tips in mind when you are communicating with the family. 

Roll your mouse over each box.

View Tip #1




Unless you’ve had previous discussion with the family about information-sharing, you’ll need to receive direction from the family in regards to what they want shared.


View Tip #2




Early into your conversation with the family, respectfully let the family know that students benefit from receiving honest information about the cause of death, and this can be delivered in a developmentally appropriate manner.


View Tip #3




Some families will welcome your input and guidance while others will not. Follow the family’s wishes as to how they want to share information or receive support.


View Tip #4




Clearly communicate the family’s wishes about information-sharing with your school’s administrators or other staff; and make sure they are aware if there are other siblings who are students in your school.





If you were previously aware that the family member was dying, you may have already developed a plan with the family about when the student will return to school. Some children return immediately while others are off school for a period of time. If there isn’t an existing plan, then you may begin to develop one, taking the feelings and needs of the family into consideration. If the family is unable to think about this at this time, offer to call back in a few days.

See also:For additional information about supporting high school students, see Chapter 4 – High School Students in Module 1 – Grief in the Classroom