Ideas for Helping Students Cope with the Tragic Death of Kobe Bryant

Tips for Helping Students Cope with the Tragic Death of Kobe Bryant

NOTE:  The contents of this post went out in an email to my subscribers the night of Kobe’s passing.  Several people asked if the information could be accessed via a link for easier access and sharing.  Here is the answer to that request.  This information can be used to help students coping with tragedy.

It’s been a somber 6 hours around my house, friend.

My 15-year-old son lives, eats, and breathes basketball. The news of Kobe’s passing tore through our Sunday lunch like a wrecking ball. In addition to that “it can’t be true” feeling, we were also met with the undeniable reality that life is really freaking fragile. Both are so heavy.

If you’re wondering why I’m dedicating an entire post to the death of Kobe, that’s okay. Here’s the reality… even if you don’t feel rocked by his passing, you will have students whose lives feel upside down as a result of it. You might tell yourself that it’s not a big deal because none of your students knew him personally. I’m here to tell you that the trauma and loss for some of your students might feel just as heavy as it would if their close friend died.

Here are a few notes and tips to help students navigate this type of loss:

  • Avoid minimizing the impact of the loss on your students. Acknowledge and normalize their feelings of devastation. Some students will inevitably be hit much harder than others.
  • Every single feeling is OKAY. There is no correct or incorrect way to handle feelings of loss. Some students might feel sad, some might feel angry, and others might even feel betrayed. Every feeling is welcome when coping with tragedy.
  • Students can always “count on” their favorite celebrities and sports stars to lift them up. In some cases, they are some of the only people in their lives that don’t let them down. The pain they feel with regards to this loss is REAL and WARRANTED.
  • The reminders of this type of loss are everywhere. If your students are on social media, they are inundated with images and messages related to the loss. It’s okay to suggest that self-care might involve stepping back from all the reminders for a little while.
  • You will have students who don’t know what happened or have any connection to Kobe Bryant at all. Your challenge is to gauge the general feeling from your students to determine how you navigate any time spent on the issue. Some teachers might only have one or two students who appear to be impacted by it, while others will notice 75% of their students are shaken over it. Ask for help outside your classroom if you feel concerned about any of your students.
  • Kobe’s passing can trigger all kinds of emotional reactions in students who have experienced a loss in their past. These feelings can resurface and, many times, students will not even be aware that their reaction to Kobe’s passing is also partially the result of triggered pain in their own lives.  It’s okay to say, “Sometimes when you witness a tragedy like this, different emotions from your own past can show up. You might feel sadness or emptiness due to a loss in your own family or community, no matter how long ago it occurred. All of those feelings have a place.”

Resources for Educators:

There is also a free resource on my website related to coping with tragedy. Subscribe to my website here.  After you receive an email with the password, click here to enter the resource library. You will find a couple of coloring pages and a picture book list for helping students cope with tragic events.

I don’t have all the answers and, in fact, I find that the older I get, the less I know. That said, please reach out if you need something and I’ll do what I can to help you.

Take care,


I am Kirsten Tulsian, an elementary educator with 18 years of experience as a teacher and counselor. My passion lies in empowering students to discover their inherent brilliance through the use of engaging, rigorous, and meaningful activities. I look forward to connecting with you!

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