how to support students through serious illness or grief

The impact of serious illness or grief on young Kiwis can be intense, emotionally traumatic and long-lasting. Feelings of isolation and loneliness can create social, behavioural and academic problems that can last into adulthood. However, the right support at the right time can give young Kiwis the tools and coping mechanisms they need to deal with the tough stuff. And teachers can help.

For many of you, you may not have received any bereavement training and may be unsure how to support grieving tamariki (children) and mātātahi (young people) in your class. The Kenzie’s Gift team has developed some resources that you may find helpful in supporting young Kiwis in your class who are facing serious illness or grief.


Death is really difficult to talk about, especially at kura (school). Sadly, at some point in your career, your kura community will be affected by death in one way or another. It could be the death of a student’s family or whānau member, carer or friend.

Or it could be the death of an ākonga (student), staff member or loved member of the kura community, like a parent helper. News travels fast to tamariki and mātātahi these days.

Tamariki might look to their teachers and schools, as well as their parents and communities, to help them make sense of what’s happened, even if they’re not directly affected by it. 


The important role you play

Grief is a life-long journey, and it can feel isolating and overwhelming, especially for tamariki and mātātahi. That’s why the support of their loved ones and community, including their teachers, is so key.

This toolkit is designed to give you confidence and plenty of ideas about how to deal with death and grief in lessons, assemblies and one-to-one settings. It draws on international expertise and the experience of Kenzie’s Gift’s qualified mental health professionals.

They’ve worked with Kiwi families, tamariki and mātātahi for years, giving them the tools and support they need to navigate their grief journey.

Note: This guide is a digital version - if you need a print ready file for sending to your printers, please contact us.


Download Teacher's Kit

make a difference

School fundraising for Kenzie's Gift

Kenzie’s Gift ability to support our tamariki and their whānau through serious illness or grief is only made possible by the wonderful support of donors, sponsors and supporters. If your school would like to fundraise for Kenzie’s Gift to help us ensure young Kiwis affected by serious illness or grief get the right support at the right time, click the button below.


School and group fundraising

Useful information and resources for teachers

Cancer affects us all in some way, perhaps a diagnosis within our immediate family, a relative or friend. There's so much information to read, watch and to listen to about this disease.

Tamariki and mātātahiwill probably know the word "cancer". They've probably formed their own ideas about what "cancer" means.

Talking about cancer to your class can help clarify their thoughts and alleviate fears and misconceptions. This is especially important when a student in your class has been personally affected by cancer, either through their own diagnosis or that of a sibling or parent.

We can offer some general tips which may help in preparing a cancer talk for your pupils. If you have a student with cancer in your class, perhaps invite them to help with your preparation. This will offer the student reassurance through familiarity with the content of the talk and may also encourage other pupils to speak more openly about cancer.

The UK Macmillan Cancer website provides some excellent resources:

Downloadable resource sheets for talking to your class about cancer:

Information on how to manage cancer in a school setting:

Information and advice to help teachers support students with cancer or those who have a family member or relative with cancer:

Also, visit our Parents' section to read information about cancer specifics, for example child cancer types, treatments, tests, side effects and more.

how to talk about cancer with students

Some general guidelines for all ages:

  • Explain cancer in a calm, unhurried and confident way. 
  • Consider any cultural issues that may arise from a frank and open discussion about cancer and how it can affect health and wellbeing. 
  • Encourage students to ask questions at any stage of the discussion. 
  • Provide honest and straightforward answers to questions. 
  • If you don't know the answer to something, let students know that you will find out and perhaps involve them in that process. 
  • Encourage students to voice their concerns and issues and try to talk them through. 
  • If emotions arise, try to reassure and support students' feelings. If need be, involve a school nurse, Dean or another teacher. 

Main messages about cancer

  • Cancer cannot be caught from anyone else. 
  • Cancer is no one's fault: nothing anyone says or does can make it happen to someone else. 
  • The likelihood of some cancers occurring can be linked to lifestyle, for example, smoking. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with good nutrition and regular exercise can reduce chances of developing cancer but it's not possible to say why some develop cancer and others do not. 
  • More people are surviving cancer now because diagnoses are made earlier and treatments are improving. Cancer mostly affects adults. Childhood cancer is very rare and most children who are diagnosed with cancer survive