|[March 15, 2012]
New York Life/NAGC Conduct First-Ever Poll of Grieving Kids:
NEW YORK --(Business Wire)--
Kids who have lost a parent or sibling bear a burden of sorrow and
anxiety, yet they strive to be resilient in the face of their grief and
greatly value the support of friends, family and the community,
according to the results of a first-ever nationwide poll of bereaved
kids released today by the New York Life Foundation and the National
Alliance for Grieving Children (NAGC).
Dealing with the death of a loved one is crushing, the findings show.
Three-quarters (75%) of the kids surveyed say they are currently sad -
even though, for the survey sample, the loss was experienced on average
more than two years ago. Nearly seven of 10 kids agree the death of
their loved one was the worst thing that ever happened to them. More
than two in five (41 percent) said that in reaction to their loss they
had acted in ways that they knew might not be good for them either
physically, emotionally or mentally.
"The death of a loved one is incredibly hard and isolating for
children," said Chris Park, president of the New York Life Foundation.
"It engenders sadness, anger, loneliness, confusion, guilt - emotions
that all too often are suffered in isolation. Kids in grief are trying
hard to cope and heal, but it's clear that they desperately need our
help to do so.
"But we are a grief-averse society, apparently hoping that if we just
ignore grief, it will go away," Park said. "As a result, families in
grief - children in particular - often are left to suffer alone and in
silence, without sufficient understanding and support from the people
and institutions that could truly make a difference for them."
The New York Life Foundation /NAGC poll of 531 kids age 18 and under who
have lost a parent or sibling was conducted in-person at bereavement
centers nationwide between November 21, 2011 and January 5, 2012. It is
believed to be the first public opinion poll of grieving children.
"The poll results are clear," Park said. "Friends, neighbors, teachers
and counselors - and society at large - all have a crucial role to play
helping kids regain some equilibrium."
More children may be struggling with loss than may be commonly thought.
A survey of 1,006 adults conducted in late 2009 by New York Life with
Comfort Zone Camp, a leading provider of bereavement support services
for children, found that one of nine Americans had lost a parent before
age 20; one in seven had lost a parent or sibling before turning 20.
"We need to bring childhood grief out of the shadows," Park said. "It's
critical to help kids give voice to their struggles and hopes - and in
the process, shed light on what each of us can do to help. We can't
eliminate their grief journey, but we can ease their burden along the
Lives Shaped by Sadness
Kids in grief are weighted down by stark emotion, with nearly half
saying sadness is their overriding feeling in the wake of their loss and
four in 10 indicating they are "sad inside most of the time."
"The emotion that bereaved kids are experiencing might not always be
overt, but for many it is always present, coloring their view of the
world as well as their ability to pick up the pieces following the death
of a parent or sibling," said Andy McNiel, executive director, National
Alliance for Grieving Children. "One of grief's most insidious impacts
is the degree to which, for many kids, it introduces a gnawing
uncertainty and concern into a world that might have previously seemed
completely secure and safe." Nearly three-quarters of bereaved kids said
their loved one's death taught them that "life is not always fair." Four
in ten said they sometimes now worry about their surviving parent or
guardian dying as well.
The Daily Challenge of School
For grieving kids, resuming normal life following loss demands
successfully navigating the school day. For many, this task becomes
Nearly half of kids say they are having more trouble concentrating on
school work and about three in 10 say they are not doing as well in
school as before. Just 27 percent say that going to school after their
loss was helpful.
The poll suggests that schools are challenged to provide meaningful
support to kids in grief. When asked to grade their school and teachers
on "helping me deal with my loved one's death," most kids assigned them
either a "C" (15 percent), a "D" (10 percent) or an "F" (23 percent).
Bereaved parents confirmed this view in a poll conducted by the NAGC and
the New York Life Foundation in summer 2011. In that poll, about four in
10 parents said their children's school was not well prepared to help
their children deal with their loss.
"During the week, kids spend as many of their waking hours in school as
they do at home. In many ways, school becomes the public frame of
reference for their grief," said David Schonfeld, MD, director of the
National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Cincinnati
Children's Hospital. "Kids are pretty good at picking up on social cues.
If their teachers and other adults at school seem uncomfortable or
uninterested in their loss, they learn quickly they will have to deal
with their grief alone.
"Of course, educators have their hands full just managing the day-to-day
demands of educating our kids, and we are not suggesting that educators
be expected to counsel grieving children," Dr. Schonfeld said. "That
said, for kids, much of life is all about school, which means that
teachers and counselors have a considerable opportunity to lend support.
Being helpful is frequently just as simple as he act of inquiring,
lending a word of support or encouragement, or creating a little greater
understanding and awareness in the classroom, lunch room or schoolyard.
"But individual teachers and counselors can't do it alone," he said.
"School administrations and schools of education need to ensure all
school staff learn more about grief's impact and consider how to better
support the professionals who are in daily and direct contact with
Interestingly, though frequently more of a challenge for bereaved kids,
school becomes for many an opportunity to work through their grief:
About half say they remember and honor their loved one by "trying to do
well in school."
"The fact that so many grieving kids view their success at school as a
'living memorial' to a loved one is all the more reason to ensure that
schools are attentive and helpful to kids following a loss," Dr.
Striving for Normalcy
Even as they struggle with grief's burden, many kids set their sights on
living a normal life and carry considerable hope for the future.
Two-thirds say they continue to enjoy life and have fun, and just as
many express the wish to "just be treated like everyone else." More than
half say that their future will "hopefully still be good" and about the
same number agreed that it will "still be happy because I have great
memories of my loved one."
At the same time, many grieving kids are uneasy about the road ahead:
Nearly half feel that their future will "be harder than it will be for
"It's clear that though bereaved kids by and large are facing the future
with hope, many don't know what to expect," said McNiel. "As a society,
we need to get better at reassuring grieving kids that though the grief
journey is tough, they are not alone, and there is every reason to look
forward to a happy and fulfilling life.
"Grief is not a problem that we are attempting to solve for a child. It
is an experience that a child lives - an experience that has ebbs and
flows," McNiel said. "It is important that we provide opportunities for
children to express their grief in a safe way. At the same time, just by
maintaining normal interactions with grieving kids and their families -
and by being inclusive instead of hesitant - we can reinforce that they
are 'still' full members of the community."
Healing Can Begin with Communication
The findings suggest that, following a loss, just the mere act of
communicating about one's loss is a struggle.
A little more than half of bereaved kids agree that after their parent
died their friends were very helpful and supportive, but at the same
time more than four in 10 say their "friends did not understand what I
was going through."
Half agree that talking to their friends about their loss is hard.
Nearly four in 10 said that "most people don't know how to talk to you
after your loved one dies."
In the 2011 NAGC/New York Life poll, more than half - 56% -- of bereaved
parents agreed that "most adults don't know how to talk to me or my kids
when we run into them." Nearly six of 10 parents said that, after their
loss, friends stopped talking with them and 70% agreed that some of
their friends or co-workers seemed uncomfortable around them.
Yet, a little communication can go a long way.
Four in 10 kids say "I like it when people talk about my loved one or
share memories about them," and the same number found that "talking to
others who have gone through the same thing" was a helpful way to cope
following their loss.
Parents affirm the value of communication: In the 2011 poll, nine in 10
bereaved parents said they wished people understood that "it's better to
say something and risk upsetting me than to ignore my loss altogether."
The Opportunity and Obligation to Help
The poll's overriding message is that when it comes to easing a child's
grief journey, everyone can make a difference.
"As professionals focused on alleviating the burden of childhood loss,
we work to create compassionate environments where grieving kids can
meet other kids in the same circumstances, share feelings of grief
freely, and participate in fun and expressive activities -- all of which
encourages optimism and confidence," said McNiel.
"But a child's grief reaction and healing journey are also informed by
daily interactions at school, at play and in the community," McNiel
said. "That's why it's incumbent on all of us to recognize grief's
impact, be thoughtful about the needs of the grieving families - kids
and adults alike - in our midst, and educate ourselves about how to lend
support. We can all help - and we all have an opportunity and maybe even
an obligation to do so."
New York Life Foundation Offers Information, Guidance, Support
The New York Life Foundation has long been focused on serving children
in need. In 2008, the Foundation expanded that focus to include an
initiative to help children deal with the loss of a parent, caregiver or
sibling and to help parents and other caring adults help children deal
with the emotional turmoil that results from the death of a close family
As part of its commitment, the Foundation has created a brochure, "The
Grief Journey of a Child," intended to help individuals help kids and
families who are grieving. The brochure includes an overview of the
kids' poll and related key findings, kids talking about grief in their
own words, a perspective on childhood grief from a leading bereavement
expert, and some tips and resources for concerned friends of all ages.
The Foundation has a Website, www.AChildInGrief.com,
which offers additional informational and educational resources for
parents, kids, educators, and the public regarding loss. Those resources
include a downloadable brochure, "After a Loved One Dies - How Children
Grieve," offering advice and guidance to parents and other caregivers as
they help children cope with their grief and fear following a death in
the family. For more information, please visit www.AChildInGrief.com
Support also is available at www.ChildrenGrieve.org,
offered by the National Alliance for Grieving Children, including guides
for parents and educators, resources for professionals and volunteers
providing support to grieving children, and an interactive map
identifying family bereavement centers across the nation.
For full results of the New York Life/NAGC survey, please click here;
to view a video on the issue of childhood loss, please click here.
On Wednesday, March 21, Chris Park, who is president of the New York
Life Foundation, will moderate a Twitter (News - Alert) chat from 3:00-4:00 pm ET,
offering tips and discussion around this important topic. Search Twitter
for #NYLTips to join the conversation.
About the Poll
The New York Life Foundation/National Alliance for Grieving Children
(NAGC) poll was conducted in-person at bereavement centers during group
sessions between November 21, 2011 and January 5, 2012. Children and
teenagers under the age of 19 were given printed copies of the survey,
customized with questions pertaining to the gender and type of family
member they lost (parent or sibling). An adult Group Leader read each
question and response category aloud, allotting time for every
participant to answer. Surveys were immediately sealed in an envelope
and sent to New York Life Foundation for data processing. Participation
in the survey was strictly voluntary and all answers remained
confidential. In a similarly sized random sample survey, the margin of
error (at the 95% confidence level) for the total population in this
study (531) would be plus or minus approximately 4.3 percentage points.
The question "How long ago did your loved one die?" was answered by 497
respondents; the mean response was 2.2 years. The polling was overseen
by Mathew Greenwald & Associates, a premier full service
market research firm headquartered in Washington, D.C.
About the New York Life Foundation
Inspired by New York Life's tradition of service and humanity, the New
York Life Foundation has, since its founding in 1979, provided more than
$155 million in charitable contributions to national and local nonprofit
organizations. Through its focus on "Nurturing the Children," the
Foundation supports programs that benefit young people, particularly in
the areas of educational enhancement and childhood bereavement. The
Foundation also encourages and facilitates the community involvement of
employees, agents, and retirees of New York Life through its Volunteers
for Life program. To learn more, please visit the Foundation's Web site
About the National Alliance for Grieving Children
The National Alliance for Grieving Children (NAGC) promotes awareness of
the needs of children and teens grieving a death and provides education
and resources for anyone who wants to support them. NAGC provides a
network for nationwide communication between hundreds of children's
bereavement centers, helping professionals, and concerned individuals
who want to share ideas, information and resources with each other to
better support the families they serve in their own communities. To
learn more, please visit www.childrengrieve.org.
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