For many children, it may take months or even years for them to recover from the emotional impact of the last few months. Schools will have put together a wealth of plans and risk assessments, in order that pupils and staff can return to school as safely as possible, but what is in place to help support children (and members of staff) who have been:

  • Dealing with family/friends who have been ill with COVID-19
  • Bereaved
  • Grieving past deaths
  • Struggling with their thoughts and emotions

Unprecedented is a word that has been used countless times over the past months, but it is an accurate term to use. Without time to prepare, we had to react to the situation as it unravelled before us. However, now we need to be prepared to support the emotional impact these past months have had on our children.

Now is the time to be focused on recovery, to help children rebuild their lives and help them heal from the difficult experiences.

Tips for teaching staff

Look after yourself – Kindness to yourself is key to enabling you to help others. Make time for: self-care, connections with your anchors (family, friends, colleagues), leisure activities, relaxation, exercise, and time outdoors. Nourish your body with good food. All will help support your body, mind and emotions.

Ask questions – Find out exactly what life has been like for your children.

Ask parents/carers, has anyone been ill? What has their child found hard about being away from school? What have they really enjoyed?

Allow time for children to talk together in small groups and as a whole class about their experiences. Use a range of resources and techniques to help open these conversations (see activities below)

Keep talking – Remember to keep talking about the virus. Children may still be worried about getting ill and fear others around them may die. Be open and honest about what is happening and answer their questions and stick to the facts.


A bereavement during lockdown will have been a very different experience of death as it is unlikely that the child will have been able to visit the person before they died or attend the funeral. Their support network will also have been reduced and there will have been no hugs and comfort from other family or friends. The virus may have heightened their fears that other loved ones are going to die and leave them, and these children will display a stronger reaction to the current crisis.

We need to acknowledge these difficulties for the child and provide routine, reassurance and comfort.

Activities to help bereaved and grieving children

  • Look inside binoculars – Make a pair of ‘binoculars’ with two empty kitchen rolls. Use these to ‘look inside’ to see where we hold different feelings: angry thoughts in the head, somatic pains in the stomach (unexpressed feelings and emotions can lead to physical complaints, symptoms or discomfort such as headaches, stomach pains, lethargy etc.)
  • Emotion body map – Using a basic outline of the body ask the children to colour/decorate the different parts of their body where they are experiencing feelings.
  • Calm in your palm – Ask the child to draw around their hand and, for each finger, write/draw a different memory related to a different sense about the person who has died. This idea can also be used when a child is feeling anxious, to help them feel more grounded and in the moment. Rather than thinking of things related to the person who has died, the child looks to things that are around them at that moment and as they touch each finger they say something like “I see my friends smiling face, I smell lunch cooking, I hear the birds singing” etc.
  • Say their name and share memories – Encourage the child to talk about their loved one by asking them (in a gentle and supportive manner) questions, e.g. “I can see that your favourite colour is red, what was your Dad’s favourite colour?”
  • Use artwork – Divide a large piece of paper into two, on one side ask the children to draw their ‘best lockdown day’ and on the other side their ‘toughest lockdown day’.

Remember there is no timeframe for bereavement. With love and support, bereaved children will successfully navigate the initial difficulties surrounding a death, but their grief will ebb and flow across their lifetime. School staff need to be prepared that key events and transitions often prove to be a time that grief re-emerges – and grieving children will require long term support.

Many teachers are looking to support the difficult return to school with a Recovery Curriculum. Professor Barry Carpenter has written about a Recovery Curriculum and it is, I believe, essential reading for schools. You can read it here This recovery curriculum has 5 levers.

LEVER 1: Relationships – many of the relationships that were thriving, may need to be invested in and restored. We need to plan for this to happen, not assume that it will.

LEVER 2: Community – recognise that curriculum has been based in the community for a long period of time. Listen to what has happened in this time, understand the needs of our community and engage them in the transitioning of learning back into school.

LEVER 3: Transparent Curriculum – many of our students will feel like they have lost time in learning and we must show them how we are addressing these gaps, consulting and co-constructing with our students to heal this sense of loss.

LEVER 4: Metacognition – in different environments, students will have been learning in different ways. It is vital that we make the skills for learning in a school environment, explicit to our students, to re-skill and rebuild their confidence as learners.

LEVER 5: Space – to be, to rediscover self, and to find their voice on learning in this issue. It is only natural that we all work at an incredible pace to make sure this group of learners are not disadvantaged against their peers, providing opportunity and exploration alongside the intensity of our expectations.

This type of curricula approach will help all of our students.

Let’s not rush to looking at the progress data of our children, instead let’s focus on recovery.


Further advice and support

Winston’s Wish:

Child Bereavement UK:

Anna Freud – National Centre for Children & Families:

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