How To Tell Your College Student About A Death In The Family

Wednesday, September 2, 2015 8:00:51 AM America/New_York

Telling a child in college about the death of a family member is never easy, especially when the student is miles away from home or in the middle of midterms. In addition to the emotional upheaval devastating news of a loved one’s passing can create, campus life and classroom obligations can bring undue pressure and a conflict of commitments. Your student may feel torn between the obligation to complete important assignments and tests that could impact their future and the need to rally around family during their time of loss.


Choose the Right Time and Place
Other than in person, the best way to notify a child who is away from home is by telephone, not text. But before you share bad news make sure your child is the right physical location and emotional state to handle such an announcement. Your child will have a myriad of emotions--from shock and disbelief to regret or anguish--at losing someone dear. It’s best to ask your child about their whereabouts before divulging news of death. You want to make sure that they are in a safe and relatively secluded setting—a dorm room or private alcove. Be sure that they are not driving or in crowded classroom where their very private reaction, potentially shocking, upsetting or explosive, will not cause an accident or loud outburst. 

Control Your Emotions
Once you have confirmed that your child is in a private place or with close friends, break the news as gently as possible, sharing information about their loved one’s death in a soft and compassionate voice. Be sure to control your emotions so that he can process what you are saying without undue distress. Becoming overly distraught will do nothing to ease the pain of losing a loved one.

Make Travel Arrangements in Advance
If the death is of a parent or sibling, a natural reaction is for your college student to want to rush to the family’s side. Suggest ways that they might make travel arrangements and notify professors and counselors of the need to leave campus unexpectedly. Wire money or purchase airplane tickets, car rentals or other modes of travel online in advance. Advance arrangements will lessen the amount of stress your child will have to handle to plan for an unexpected trip home.

Allow Students to Opt Out of Funeral Attendance 
As a parent, you can help collegians by giving them the liberty to opt out of traveling home to grieve with the family. Students studying overseas might not be able to travel home quickly without incurring a great deal of expense or losing credits. Suggest that they remain at school until a more appropriate time, especially in the death of a distant relative. However, if their deceased loved one is a parent, sibling, or close friend, you can help make the trip home easier. Offer comforting words, a listening ear, and lots of emotional support as they work through personal grief and handle pressing academic obligations. 
Posted in News By

Scott Steckman

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