Q. I'm an eighth-grade teacher and one of my student's mothers recently died of cancer. I'd like to know how to help her, and how to help the rest of my class support her.

A.

Your student’s life probably feels very alien and unsafe right now, so the best thing you can do is let her know that whatever she is feeling is ok (including having feelings that are confusing or volatile or contradictory) and that you understand that.

I would also check in with the school’s psychologist, if there is one, and see what support, if any, he or she has offered the student. After that, I think the biggest thing that you can do is to help all the students face not only what happened (that their classmate’s mother died of cancer) but also what is currently happening in the classroom (that they probably feel like they don’t know what to say or how to say it). Normalize and support that discomfort or sense of danger or failure, both for the student in question and for the rest of the class. That’s going to take a lot of pressure off of everyone, and reduce the sense of failure and isolation as well.

And because her world is probably pretty upside-down, the familiar and predictable setting and structure of the classroom (and keeping it as normal as possible) may be a significant support to the student in and of itself. Maintain normalcy, with an extra dose of availability, and some flexibility as the student’s experience unfolds.

The following are resources to help the school staff as well as the child’s father:

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