Emotions and behaviours

"It could be that the pupil or pupils you are working with find it difficult to associate their feelings and emotions with the grief that they are experiencing."

Grief is a natural response when someone dies, but everyone grieves differently. Although pupils with additional needs may grieve in similar ways to other young people and adults, it can be more challenging for them to express their grief and make sense of what has happened.

Grief in pupils with additional needs may be expressed through changes in behaviour, even if these are minor adaptations to how they may usually respond. Pupils may seek their sources of comfort more frequently such as stimming, ticks, chewing and other sensory self-soothing behaviours.

Anger is a common emotion when grieving and can result in distressed behaviour that adults might find challenging. Acknowledging the anger as part of their grief and providing safe ways to express it can help.

You may notice that bereaved pupils show regression in their learning, behaviour and/or personal care. This regression can be difficult for the child, as well as those who are caring for them, particularly where the pupil has worked hard to achieve some of their milestones. Acknowledge that this can be a typical reaction when a child is grieving, and is likely to be temporary.

It is therefore important to take notice of all changes in behaviour and how these may be related to their expressions of grief.

  • Keep routines the same as much as possible.
  • Use social stories to help support new/different things that are going to happen.
  • Give the pupil more time and space to process the changes.
  • Make sure the pupil has access to resources, toys, activities etc. that help them to regulate their behaviour.
  • Use emotion or zones of regulation charts to help them to express how they are feeling.

Remember the pupil’s behaviour is their way of communicating something to us.